“I want to do something about all the plastic waste. I want to be an environmental scientist.” Those words of wisdom and hope came from a seventh-grade girl at La Cumbre Junior High earlier this month. The Community Environmental Council’s (CEC) Rethink the Drink staff visited the school and spoke to over 300 students about the importance of reducing our dependence on single-use plastic products.
CEC’s Rethink the Drink program started in 2010 as a way to offer schools an alternative to bottled water. Single-use plastic bottled water is a very energy-intensive product. If you were to fill half a plastic water bottle with oil, you’d be looking at the amount energy that is used to make and transport that bottle.
With the support of local foundations and school facilities departments, Rethink the Drink installed 12 refill stations in schools across Santa Barbara County during the 2012-2013 school year. This includes six stations in the Santa Barbara School District, three in Lompoc, and three in Goleta (where two more stations are pending). An additional three units were installed at the Page Youth Center and Girls Inc. locations in both Carpinteria and Goleta Valley. This brings the total number of refill stations installed to 30. Select schools are provided with stainless steel canteens for all students and staff.
Jo Ann Caines, Principal at La Cumbre Junior High School talks about the immediate impact that the refill station has had on campus, saying that “students at the school transformed their habits overnight with CEC’s Rethink the Drink campaign. There are long lines at the refillable water station, and students treasure their new stainless steel water bottles.”
The refill stations dispense cold, filtered water with a quick-fill mechanism so they are fast and fun to use. The units also feature a meter that counts the number of uses. As of June 6, 2013 all 30 stations combined were used 389,998 times!
CEC continues to support the refill stations with education about the negative impacts of single-use plastics. Staff appeared at several assemblies, Back to School nights, PTA meetings, classroom visits and Science Nights throughout the school year. Participating schools receive a framed poster to display next to each refill station. The poster highlights reasons to choose tap water over of bottled water, including:
• Plastic water bottle energy use in one year = fuel for one million cars.
• 30 million bottles per day end up in landfills or as litter.
• Tap water is better for you – it’s tested for safety more often and held to higher safety standards than bottled water in the U.S.
• Water is a healthier beverage choice than sugary drinks and a properly hydrated student performs better in school!
• Bottled water costs 10,000 times more than tap water in Santa Barbara.
Jose Caballero, AP Environmental Science teacher and Green Academy director at Santa Barbara High School says, “the water machines are a synergistic super-solution: smaller energy/carbon footprint (than transporting bottles for retail sale), less wasted plastic, more hydrated students, better water quality and it’s free to all! Ideas like this don’t come along very often, but they are exactly the type of work we need in our schools: well-considered, sustainable, and all-around practical.”