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Enterprising student helps AHS use fewer plastic bottles

By Isabel Sullivan

The newly-installed water bottle fill station is up and running. Photo by Alanna Greene
The newly-installed water bottle fill station is up and running.
Photo by Alanna Greene

“If you’re attached to the ‘retro’ style, you might be disappointed,” said Alameda High School senior Caitlin Shener, who recently won a grant for a water bottle filling station, which will replace the decades-old water fountain currently located in front of the main building’s room 250.

A student refills her water bottle. Photo by Alanna Greene
A student refills her water bottle.
Photo by Alanna Greene

Shener, the leadership class’s environmental commissioner, learned about the grant during the Service Learning Waste Reduction Project (SLWRP) conference. SLWRP works with middle and high school teachers and students to “find ways to reduce waste on campus and in the community through service and learning projects,” according to the project’s website.

Upon the realization that “it is an issue at our school that we do use too much plastic,” Shener spoke with environmental science teacher Dr. Carolyn Cover-Griffith, leadership class teacher Allen Nakamura and administrators for approval of the grant, then wrote the grant and submitted an application with the help of a few other students.

“It’s great to get a grant, but that’s when the work begins,” said Griffith. “Implementing the grant is the toughest part.”

When asked about her role in receiving and implementing the grant, Griffith laughed. “I said, ‘Good job, Caitlin!’” she recalled.

A rendering of what the new filling station will look like. Photo courtesy of http://www.elkayezh2o.com/lzwssm.html
A rendering of what the new filling station will look like.
Photo courtesy of http://www.elkayezh2o.com/lzwssm.html

“I can’t wait to see it,” Griffith said. “It’s been a long process, so I’m just excited to see the equipment.” Shener recently met with a plumber to discuss the installation process. “Hopefully it will be installed soon,” She said.

The goal of the station is to reduce bottle plastic. “Our hope is that the station and the publicity around it will motivate more people to use reusable water bottles,” Shener explained. Non-reusable water bottles add to the several trash gyres in our oceans, which are full of non-biodegradable plastic. These gyres destroy marine ecosystems.

“It’s creepy,” said Griffith. “There are birds with plastic in their stomachs.”

According to “Business Insider,” the world spends over $100 billion a year on bottled water. And, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), over half of Americans drink bottled water.

The production of a water bottle requires three times more water than it does to fill it. Additionally, in one year, 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce plastic water bottles.

The water bottle industry grows 8-10% each year, faster than any other beverage, says the NRDC and because of aggressive marketing tactics, the public perceives bottled water to be safer and more pure in comparison to tap water.

This chart shows the reasons people consume bottled water. Chart courtesy of http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/bw/chap2.asp#note47
This chart shows the reasons people consume bottled water.
Chart courtesy of http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/bw/chap2.asp#note47

“[The filling station] will give us the ability to numerically see how many water bottles we save,” said Shener, “but beyond that I hope it gives us a platform to teach about our ocean and how plastics affect it.” She plans to release a video this month to raise awareness about plastic’s effect on our oceans. She will also distribute stickers and host reusable water bottle giveaways.

“Non-reusable should not be a word,” Griffith said. She currently sells reusable water bottles in her classroom. These bottles are the product of a project completed by a group of AP Environmental Science students.

Griffith stressed that change must come from students.  “Students do amazing things if you let them,” Griffith said, “and Caitlin has been working so hard.”

“The mindset of the school needs to be focused around sustainability,” said Griffith, “Recycle or die.”

 

 

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