Student project creates a 'greener school'

Small steps can make a huge difference. Just ask Hillcrest Middle School sixth grade students Sara Divasto and Claudia Soberal, who spearheaded an initiative to install water bottle fillers on behalf of the Ecology & Sustainability Club.

A pilot program will begin with the first water bottle filler near the cafeteria of Hillcrest for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year. If successful, more may be installed throughout the school.

Janet Cunningham, science teacher and adviser of the club, was at a climate change summit recently where high school students stated their goal to reduce plastic waste with water bottle fillers. “I’m thinking to myself, my girls have already done it,” Ms. Cunningham said with a laugh.

Sara and Claudia convinced the Long Hill Administration by creating a thoroughly researched PowerPoint presentation. They say if every student used a reusable water bottle instead of a disposable one, Hillcrest alone can prevent 150,000 plastic bottles from being wasted each year. And according to a survey they conducted, 76% of students said they would use a water bottle filler.

The water bottle filler is a gray, rectangular design that would be mounted on a water fountain. Students and faculty will be able to refill their reusable water bottles with clean, filtered water at a much faster rate; the product has an electronic sensor with a 20-second shutoff timer. It will also include a “Green Ticker,” which counts the number of disposable water bottles saved from going to the landfill. “The water bottle filler will be much easier to use than the water fountain for refilling water bottles,” said Sara. “It will be less expensive than having to buy plastic water bottles and more convenient.”

Sara and Claudia say in their PowerPoint that the water bottle filler will cost $389. The club has raised $683 through activities such as selling pencils and electronics recycling.

Sara and Claudia are confident that installing water bottle fillers will positively impact the class environment. They say students who are hydrated learn better, and that class time will be saved if students aren’t constantly going to the water fountain.

“I thought they were going to say no,” said Sara, referring to the administration’s decision.

“Yeah. We were pretty happy. It’s a really big step,” said Claudia.

“We were just trying to find a way to help save the Earth,” Claudia said. “So much plastic is wasted that could be used for something else.”

The students urge everyone to play their small role in achieving that goal. In their presentation, they recommend saving glass jars, bringing cloth bags to the grocery store and buying items packaged in glass if possible.

Already, Sara and Claudia are brainstorming with Ms. Cunningham about their project for next year. They discussed the possibility of bike racks, compost, and light sensors. “I’ve got them for two more years, which is awesome,” Ms. Cunningham said.