Another Step Toward Planetary Health: Single Use Bottled Water Plastics To Be Replaced

Key takeaways:

  • U-M Health is taking another step toward decarbonization by replacing the sale of bottled plastic water and removing over 113,000 plastic bottles from landfills and inefficient recycling methods.
  • In partnership with vendors Picasso and Aramark, water will still be for sale in cafés, markets and vending machines at U-M Health in the form of aluminum bottles and boxed water.
  • Aluminum and boxes were chosen due to their ability to be infinitely recyclable and renewable, whereas plastic is not. Additionally, recent research has shown there’s more nanoplastics in plastic bottles than previously realized. Nanoplastics can lead to detrimental health effects.

U-M Health’s commitment to environmentally friendly operations and a series of agreements with vendors are leading to a major sustainability improvement: the replacement of single-use plastic water bottles.

On Feb. 12, water sold at U-M Health will be in new containers. No longer will plastic bottles be used, but in their place will be aluminum bottles and boxed water. This decision was headed by the Planet Blue at U-M Health team in partnership with vendors Picasso and Aramark.

“We are so proud that we can reach this special sustainability goal,” said Darric Terry, M.P.A., senior administrative manager for contract and retail services. “U-M Health is intentional in reducing single-use plastics to improve our environment and it wouldn’t be possible without the agreement and support of our food retail vendors.”

Commitment to carbon neutrality and environmental sustainability

This decision is another example of U-M Health’s commitment to carbon neutrality and environmental sustainability, linked to the University of Michigan’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Based on fiscal year 2022 water sales by U-M Health vendors, this move will divert over 113,000 plastic bottles from landfills and inefficient recycling methods. Thus, nearly 6,000 pounds of plastic waste will not be created.

Moreover, removing bottled plastic water also reduces the toxic risk to those who drink from them. According to research conducted by researchers at Columbia University and Rutgers University, a liter of bottled water contains an average of around 240,000 detectable nanoplastic fragments. Nanoplastics may cause health risks like gastrointestinal disorders, birth defects and increased mortality.

The new water products to be sold are aluminum bottles by Aquafina and Proud Source, and Boxed Water in boxes, which are made of 92% plant-based packaging. These new products will be carried in the University Hospital Café, Mott Getaway ‘n’ Play Café, Heart Health Café in the Frankel Cardiovascular Center, Victors Way Café and all vending machines and 24/7 markets.

“The damage that plastic water bottles present to our environment, including landfills and waterways and sea life, is well documented,” said Tony Denton, M.H.A., J.D., senior vice president and chief environmental, social and governance officer at U-M Health. “And if we can do our part to reduce harmful waste materials while providing options for our patients, families, visitors and colleagues, we’ll further our broad goals to decarbonize the health care sector and improve planetary health on behalf of the university and communities which we serve.”

Why aluminum?

According to the Ball Corporation, which promotes itself as “the world’s leading provider of innovative, sustainable aluminum packaging for beverage, personal care and household products,” aluminum is infinitely recyclable. This is supported by the fact that nearly 75 percent of all the aluminum ever produced is still in use today.

Counter that to plastic bottles, where less than 30 percent are recycled in the United States. Moreover, most are “downcycled” according to Oceana, an international advocacy organization dedicated to ocean conservation. In this scenario, there is no recycling loop – recycled plastic bottles are not made into new plastic bottles.

What’s not changing

Other plastic bottled products, such as soda, energy drinks, flavored water-based drinks and sports drinks, are not part of the plastic bottle replacement project at this time. The Planet Blue at U-M Health team will continue to monitor potential alternative sustainable packaging options in the future.

Additionally, new boxed water and aluminum bottled water can be recycled within U-M Health’s existing mixed recycling collection bins. These bins can be found within staff breakrooms, cafeterias and other high traffic areas throughout Michigan Medicine facilities.

U-M Health team members are also reminded that there are other eco-friendly ways to consume water in the workplace. For example, bringing a reusable container to one of the many refilling water stations across the facilities avoids the need for a single-use plastic container.

Watch for future Headlines articles and other communications from Planet Blue at U-M Health program initiatives and future progress. In the meantime, visit the Environmental Stewardship website. If you have suggestions or ideas on how climate change can be addressed more effectively at Michigan Medicine, please email

Come Feb. 12, look for these products in U-M Health cafés, markets and vending machines:

Cylindrical aluminum bottles and boxed water containers shaped like milk cartons.

This article was originally published in Michigan Medicine Headlines.

2 thoughts on “Another Step Toward Planetary Health: Single Use Bottled Water Plastics To Be Replaced”

  1. More bad science by U of M.

    Plastic-lined cardboard is NOT more recyclable. Carbon footprint is higher.

    Don’t promote bad science.

  2. Know what isn’t cool? Airport pricing for water. *Most* employees have the benefit of Absopure service in their units, but for patient families and visitors? $3 for 16oz of water. It may be an unintended consequence, but this is a really bad look.

    Here’s the breakdown – approximate cost for Aramark and Continental vending = $1.08/per unit. Are there no contractual limits on margin/mark-up our third-party vendors are permitted? I’m all for them having good and healthy margins (maybe even wild margins on less healthy snacks, etc), but this is water. Come on!

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