Reusable water bottles for Preston Street Primary School
Edinburgh Local teamed up with a local primary school to tackle the issue of plastic waste. We hear from parent and staff member at the University's Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, Thomas Williams...
Most mornings I walk with my five year old son Fraser to school – one of the benefits of a University Research Fellowship allowing to take time out of my usual job as a paediatrician. One day as we approached the stretch leading up to Preston Street School the conversation turned to waste, and in particular to plastic waste.
“Do you know much about plastic?” I asked him.
“Yes, l know everything about plastic,” he answered with his usual modesty.
“What happens to plastic once we’ve finished with it?”
“It gets recycled” (a strong emphasis on this at his primary school).
“What about if is doesn’t get recycled?”
“It goes to the dump. And if not it goes into the sea. And that’s bad because it float there and kills the fish. And then all the animals starve because there aren’t fish to eat. And it makes a big dump in the sea full of plastic.”
“Bigger than Scotland?”
“Bigger than Scotland” (and, as it turns out, larger than the size of France, Germany and Spain combined).
Given the rising volumes of plastic waste in the world (it is estimated that there is currently 8.3 billion metric tons of it in the world, 91% of which isn’t recycled), it is hardly surprising that even my five year old son isn’t aware of the scale of the problem. Which is why it seemed important to me, and a number of other parents, to take a small step to reduce the amount of waste being used at the Fraser’s primary school.
Like many other primary school children, on his Friday half day he used to receive a plastic water bottle along with the packed lunch provided by the school. These bottles were provided by the council, concerned about maintaining hydration for children, many of whom participate in after-school clubs. This concern meant that they didn’t feel they could withdraw them, and assume parents would supply their children with water bottles.
After discussion with the school’s head teacher, Mrs. Allan, we decided that if we were able to provide every child with a re-usable water bottle, which they could bring into school and refill during the day, it would probably be reasonable to cancel the entire school’s water bottle order for the year.
Supported by Edinburgh Local, the University of Edinburgh’s department for engaging with local issues, we have been able to purchase every child a (very reasonably priced) Preston Street branded water bottle, reducing waste, and having the unforeseen effect of highlighting environmental issues amongst school children. So much so, that Fraser’s class have now all created posters to advertise the benefits of recycling and held a discussion forum focused on the problem of plastic waste.
Topics addressed included:
-What is recycling? “When we put papers and plastic in the correct bins so that we can use them over and over again”.
-What happens when we don’t recycle? “Rubbish ends up on the floor and litters our streets”.
-What can we do to recycle? “We could create posters encouraging people to recycle”, “We could all go on a class trip to the beach and clean up” and my personal favourite: “If we learn how to swim we could swim out to sea and help to collect rubbish from our seas.”
According to Miss Walsh, Fraser’s class teacher, the discussion ended on the topic of the new water bottles: “We are helping to protect the creatures which live in our seas and oceans.”
Whilst this is perhaps an overstatement, imagine how much plastic (and the energy costs of bottling and transporting the water) would be saved if every school in Scotland (or the United Kingdom? Or Europe?) stopped using disposable plastic water bottles. And how much unneccessary waste could be avoided if the idealism and enthusiasm of our children led to them not being used in cafes, canteens, sports events and conference centres?