Return of water bottles to cafeteria disappoints geology teacher

I am terribly disappointed that the students of Harvard-Westlake chose to bring back single-use water bottles.  Perhaps a single-use bottle of water is better than a single-use bottle of Gatorade, but why are we selling Gatorade in our cafeteria in the first place?  Gatorade is a great choice for rehydration after vigorous sports, but no one needs all that sugar and salt for lunch. 

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sponsored a bill in 2010 that would ban the sale of sports drinks in California public schools.  We stopped selling sugary soft drinks, so why are we selling sugary “sports drinks?” 

Are we really worried that reusing a bottle is an unhealthy practice?  We all (I hope) wash our dinner dishes rather than throw them away or recycle them after each use. A reusable water bottle can be washed between uses. Warm soapy water does the trick, and if you want, add some bleach once in a while.  Modern plastic water bottles no longer contain Bisphenol A, and metal water bottles never did contain BPA, so that is not a concern. 

Cold filtered water is available all over the campus. We even have water infused with strawberries, cucumbers or mint. Yet our students want to waste money and resources on single-use bottles. 

What does that say about our students?  Few of our students have to consider the cost of small purchases. That doesn’t mean that it makes any sense to pay money for tap water that is hundreds of times more expensive.

Are our students too lazy to bother to wash out a bottle?  Possibly.  Are they too paranoid of germs to consider that washing dishes and bottles could be perfectly healthy? Perhaps, for our society is becoming increasingly germ-phobic.

Do our students know that they are wasting precious resources?  If they knew, would they care?

I am hoping that some would care, so I have put together some facts about the resources wasted with the single-use bottles.

Reasons why a reusable bottle is best:

1. It costs less than single use bottles. Although bottled water is no healthier than tap water, bottled water can cost 4,000 to 10,000 times what tap does for the same amount. This is no exaggeration.  Do the math: tap water costs $.001 per gallon compared to an average $2 bottle (not even a gallon) of water.

2. No fuel is used in making and recycling bottles. The 29 billion plastic water bottles produced for use in the United States each year require the equivalent of 17 million barrels of crude oil.

3. Not all plastic bottles get recycled. Of the 2.7 million tons of plastic Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles on U.S. shelves in 2006, 80 percent went into landfills. They will remain there un-decomposed for up to 1,000 years. Think about it. This is a product that is useful for perhaps one hour, yet will take a thousand years to decompose.

4. Recycling of plastic is expensive. The cost of recycling PET plastic is lower than the cost of producing virgin PET plastic, but is still expensive, at about 60 percent the cost of virgin materials, depending upon local conditions. Some of that cost comes from energy use, and, as we all know, our energy resources are limited and the use of most forms of energy creates greenhouse gases.

5. Using reusable bottles saves on water. Almost seven times as much water is used to make a plastic bottle as is in the bottle. It may take some water to wash a reusable bottle, but it takes much less than it would to make or recycle a new plastic bottle.  In California especially, water is a precious resource.

6. It saves on fuel to use local water. Eighty-one grams of fossil fuels, 720g of water, and 153g of green house gases are produced for every bottle delivered to the U.S. from Fiji. Why would anyone think it is a good idea to import water all the way from Fiji when we can get excellent water from the Sierras? Interesting anecdote: every year we test bottled water in Advanced Placement Environmental Science.  Fiji is the only source that has ever shown the presence of fecal coliform bacteria.

Harvard-Westlake students:  Please try to break the habit of using throw-away bottles. Thank you. 


—Wendy Van Norden, Science teacher