Healthy Drinking Water for Berne Knox Westerlo Elementary Students

By Lisa Chase, Go Green Committee Chair, BWK PTA, Environmental Community Activist

How to teach the three “R”s and provide healthy drinking water to Berne Knox Westerlo Elementary School students?  That was the question the  BKW PTA Go Green Team contemplated after deciding that reducing the plastic waste stream at the elementary school should be on our list of things to do.  

The problem we identified was that our school is over 100 years old and although our drinking water has a purification system in place, once the water traveled from there through the school’s old pipes it was not preferable by faculty, staff and most parents to drink.  Public water is not an option either in our community and the water coming from the students homes is un-purified well water. Most parents buy bottled water and send it in to school with their children on a daily basis which creates an undesirable plastic waste stream within the classrooms and throughout the school. It also adds to the financial burden of the parents in this rural community. Most importantly it is an unhealthy way to drink water as concerns over BPA in plastics bottles is widely proven.

Our solution was to implement a PTA sponsored elementary school program to REDUCE our current plastic waste stream, encourage REUSE of healthier and eco-friendly aluminum or BPA free plastic water bottles instead of disposable plastic bottles, and RECYCLE more plastics in our current and future waste streams.

The goals and objectives of the program were:

  • creating a system of collection and recycling for returnable plastic bottle
  • providing the students and parents with educational materials and statistics on reducing use and recycling of plastics, and health concerns of BPA in plastics
  • installing a Purified Drinking Water Station in the cafeteria providing each student with a reusable aluminum or BPA free plastic water bottle and encouraging them to fill it at school

Funding  was a problem.  We had what was a good idea but zero funds. We decided to look for funding from grants.  We submitted a grant proposal on this program to the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling (NYSAR3). Thanks to NYSAR3, our grant was approved and it provided us with the $300 seed money we needed to start our program.  We used the seed money to purchase small collection bins for all the classrooms and large collection bins for the hallways and other common areas.  We created a learning-by-doing program with our 4th and 5th grade students to collect the bins once a week and transfer the bottles to larger collection bins in the common areas of the school. The large collection bins in the cafeteria were then emptied by a PTA volunteer who returned the bottles for refundable deposits. In the three months (April thru June 2010) we collected the returnable plastic water bottles, we returned 2489 bottles for $124.45.  That’s almost 2500 bottles kept out of the landfill and nearly $125.00 in funds to funnel back into the PTA’s Go Green Committee to fund the educational portion of the program! 

The NYSAR3 grant helped us address the recycling portion of the program, but in order to address the important issue of providing the students with a means to acquire purified drinking water at school, we still needed additional funding to support our efforts. We submitted a Community Catalyst Fund Grant application and were elated to have their support and $2000.00 worth of funding to implement our program!   Thanks to the folks at the Community Catalyst Fund we were able to have a new water filtration system installed in the cafeteria before school was out for the summer and the 500 Biodegradable BPA Free reusable water bottles were ordered and delivered to the school.  When school started in the fall all the elementary school students were given a BKW Bulldogs Go Green water bottle to be used at school at the new water station.  Each student  also received information to take home to their parents regarding our program, the importance of reduction, reuse and the dangers of BPA.  The day after the water bottles went home the elementary school cafeteria was filled with refillable water bottles on the tables in the lunch room and on the desks in the classrooms.  Even at this point three quarters into the school year you notice that the use of refillable water bottles has greatly increased and the program seems to be working.  Brian Corey, the Elementary School Principal says “I see the kids using the water station all the time.”  We have even seen the amount of disposable water bottles collected has decreased.  We are collecting less money but that’s ok because it means our program is working by encouraging reuse.

A 3rd grant was written for this program to request 100 cardboard collection bins from the Coca-Cola Company Keep America Beautiful BIN Grant Program.  Only 81 of 1,700 applications were approved and ours was one of them!  This grant provided us with 100 large cardboard bins. This allows us to replace the water bottle bins we purchased for the Elementary halls when needed and to expand the program to the middle and high school. 

Ultimately, this program eliminates parents need to buy and send in plastic water bottles, thus making it easier and more economical for them to provide purified drinking water to their children. Educating parents and students on the use and recycling of plastics in addition to the reusable water bottle program creates an environment where the use of disposable plastic bottles is not the norm but the exception.  We believe this to be a worthwhile program and important to health of our students and to our planet.  NYSAR3, the Community Catalyst Fund, and the Coca-Cola Company/Keep America Beautiful all must have thought it was worthwhile and important too – without their support this would still be an idea instead of becoming a reality!  Thanks to all of you from all of us at a little school called Berne Knox Westerlo, in the Helderberg Mountains outside Albany New York!

Explore posts in the same categories: Community Action, Fundraising, Recycling, Campus Climate Action, environment, climate education, Global Warming, waste, student climate action, climate change

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