In Taiwan, we value conserving property so much that many Taiwanese who discover lost property will go to great lengths to return it to the owner. It is a moral obligation shared by many Taiwanese. So I was shocked to learn Gregory Gym staff threw my water bottle away only two hours after I left it behind.
According to Gregory Gym’s website, found property will be turned in to the facility’s control area and “the staff member on duty will log and store the article(s) in the lost and found cabinet.” Despite the policy’s promise to hold items for “a minimum of seven days,” certain items get thrown away prematurely.
Gregory Gym staff explained the issues with storing found reusable bottles. First, a large number of them get turned in. Jennifer Speer, senior director for Recreational Sports, said, “Each week we find a hundred or more water bottles left in Gregory Gym alone.”
Second, they claim keeping bottles poses a sanitary risk. “There is always a chance of mold growing with even a small amount of residual liquid left in the bottle,” Speer said. “Additionally, we find bottles that contain protein drinks, which causes other issues when liquid is still in the bottle and sits stagnant for days.”
However, throwing away reusable bottles harms the environment and puts an undue financial burden on students. Consider a Nalgene bottle, which can cost over $20 or a Hydro Flask that can cost over $30. Gregory Gym’s current policy potentially allows for thousands of dollars worth of reusable bottles to be thrown away every year.
In contrast to UT, Kevin Kilgore, a lieutenant at the UCLA Police Department, stated in an email, “If the water bottle is a reusable type that someone would have likely purchased, we would empty any liquid contents and log that in our Lost & Found just as any other item.” Other institutions that keep reusable water bottles include the University of North Texas and the University of Michigan who work with third parties to collect bottles.
Some may argue that at schools such as the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, which only has 6,800 students, can deal with found reusable bottles because they have a smaller population of students and faculty.
However, we should make a change in our lost and found system, not in spite of, but because of our large size. If we don’t, the environmental cost will be multiplied by the huge number of students on campus.
When implementing environmental justice and a sustainable way of living, keeping reusable bottles for a few days should not be viewed as burdensome. Treating reusable bottles as disposable poses a great burden on our environment. Globally, 180 billion more plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 than a decade ago.
Right now, Gregory Gym does not seem to have the capacity to deal with found reusable bottles. But partnering with third parties like Crowdfind — which provides universities with a lost-and-found platform that includes a catalog and claim system — would make this easier for staff. All in all, Gregory Gym should do more to protect the environment and students’ wallets by rethinking its current practices of throwing away reusable water bottles.
Chang is a philosophy junior from Taiwan.