Bioneers come to U to talk environment, social issues

Water bottles can be found at almost any University of Minnesota building, but speakers from a conference held on campus this weekend want to change that. The 3rd annual Northland Bioneers Conference , on the UniversityâÄôs West Bank this weekend, aimed to educate on social and environmental issues such as the dangers of using bottled water, said Sue Stoen , a bioneer volunteer. Katie Clower , a graduate student who helped organize the event, said this yearâÄôs focus is about how to live and create a sustainable future. âÄúThe idea is âÄòhow can we create a future that works for all of us?âÄù she said. âÄúBioneers was really founded on the idea that nature has the answer to that.âÄù One discussion focused on drinking tap water from faucets and fountains instead of using plastic bottles âÄî vending machines in the area were covered with blankets during the conference to discourage their use. âÄúWe need to be thinking about our water supply,âÄù Stoen said. âÄúThatâÄôs going to be the next crisis.âÄù Stoen said that plastic could become a problem because it can only be recycled so many times before it goes into a landfill. She said plastic particles decrease in size but end up in the soil, and eventually into water systems and food âÄî a plastic bottlesâÄô lifespan is unknown and could stick around for generations. Diana Kennedy , the director of communications for Eureka Recycling and member of a group called the âÄúWater Reclaimers,âÄù said people donâÄôt often believe that their tap water is safe to drink. A goal of the Water Reclaimers is to increase the use of public water supplies by supporting restaurants that donâÄôt use bottled water, and the construction of new water fountains in Minneapolis, said Rachel Breen , a member of the group and associate of another environmental group called On the Commons. Vonda Vaden , the producer of the conference, said the overuse of plastic is whatâÄôs problematic. âÄúOur culture has taken plastic way beyond its usefulness,âÄù Vaden said. âÄúAnything reusable is the best alternative.âÄù Kristin Lessard , an environmental science policy and management junior, said six months ago she signed a pledge to not drink bottled water and hasnâÄôt since. âÄúItâÄôs a personal choice, and a lot of people donâÄôt realize that they could choose the other way and it isnâÄôt as difficult as they think,âÄù Lessard said. The conference comes more than a week after Minnesota passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which will raise the state sales tax to invest in clean water, natural resources, parks, trails and arts projects, which Vaden said showed MinnesotansâÄô investment in their environment. The conference used open forums, workshops, speeches and entertainment to cover topics such as MinnesotaâÄôs place in the green economy, environmental justice and using fungi to advance medicinal and nutritional technologies.