“Mom, I Can’t Go to School: I Don’t Have a PLASTIC Water Bottle!”

August 31st, 2010

I swear I’m not making this up. No sooner had I finished my post about the Top Ten Green School Projects to tackle, and fallen into bed when my newly minted third grader hit me with this zinger.

It seems stainless steel water bottles are noisy. Really. When little hands drop stainless steel water bottles from their desks, apparently they make quite a din. So my son’s teacher, on the first day of school, banned anything other than plastic water bottles.

That’s a problem for us.

After much experimentation with everything from re-used Honest Tea glass bottles to Sigg water bottles, I finally switched the family over to stainless steel water bottles. I even shelled out $20 for insulated stainless steel water bottles.

I looked and looked and looked and realized we just have no more plastic water bottles. As an ode to my bloggy friend Beth of Fake Plastic Fish, the nation’s top anti-plastics blogger, I had banned plastic water bottles from the house!

My son was very concerned.

“I can’t go to school! I need a plastic water bottle!”

“We don’t have any! You’ll have to take the stainless steel. I’ll write a note to the teacher,” I responded.

“No,” he insisted. “It HAS to be plastic. The stainless ones make too much noise; they fall from the desks.”

“Well, we got rid of all the plastic water bottles and I’m not buying any more,” I retorted. “Can’t you just get up and use the water fountain?”

“NO!!!,” he shrieked. “We can’t just get up and get a drink of water whenever we feel like it. We only get breaks like only every two hours. And I won’t get to drink until lunch time. And it’s TOO LONG!!!,” he exhaled in a burst of eight-year-old whininess.

Now I thought about just letting this go. I’ve recovered from Green Mom Culture Shock.  I understand that not everything will be a Green Nirvana, not even at a Montgomery County, Maryland Green School.

I hate being THAT MOM. Yes, I’ve been called a “piece of work.”

But as I’ve blogged before, you can either sit behind your laptop and bemoan the state of the world, or you can do something.

So I wrote an email to his teacher.

Dear Ms. X:

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful start to the school year.  I very much look forward to meeting you at Back to School Night.

My son informed me this morning that he needed a plastic water bottle rather than the stainless steel one he brought to class. As part of our family’s commitment to protecting and preserving the environment and our family’s health, we have reduced our use of plastics, including plastic water bottles. We no longer own any plastic water bottles – part of an expensive, time consuming process to switch from plastic to stainless steel, glass, and other more eco-friendly alternatives.

I respectfully ask you to reconsider requiring plastic water bottles for the following reasons:

1) many plastic bottles leach harmful chemicals which can disrupt the endocrine system of young children. Plastic #3 (polyvinyl chloride/PVC can leach hormone-disrupting chemicals into the liquids they are storing and will release synthetic carcinogens into the environment when incinerated. Plastic #6 (polystyrene/PS), leaches styrene, a probable human carcinogen, into food and drinks as well;

2) the plastic nib at the top of most plastic water bottles is easily scratched by young teeth, resulting in ingestion of plastic chemicals (as opposed to most stainless steel bottles, which contain an open spout for drinking);

3) stainless steel bottles, like the one I purchased for my son, can be insulated to keep water cooler longer;

4) the production of plastics accounts for about 8% of our usage of fossil fuels (petroleum, oil, natural gas);

5) it would be expensive, wasteful and time consuming for the class to replace their existing water bottles with plastic. My son told me that all but about two of the students came to school with stainless or other bottles made of materials other than plastic (likely for the reasons cited above).

I understand there is a noise issue that is causing you to request plastic bottles rather than water. Could I help you to brainstorm other solutions? Perhaps the stainless water bottles could be labeled, put in a blanket and left in a wagon near the door. I recall that approach being used for lunch bags in my son’s classroom last year.

I’m so sorry to have our first communication be about this issue. As you can tell, I am very passionate about environmental issues! I am happy to help you as you look at other classroom issues and their impact on the environment – I know from experience that switching from conventional methods to greener, more environmentally friendly practices can be a long process, requiring lots of trade-offs and education.

Thanks so much for your consideration.

Regards,

Lynn

Yikes. Where do you think this will lead? And actually, I spoke too soon. I’m experiencing Green Mom Culture Shock all over again.

How’s back-to-school going in your world? I’m thinking of  updating that post about “Top 10 Green Projects” to make it “Top 20 Green Projects.”

– Lynn

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21 Responses to ““Mom, I Can’t Go to School: I Don’t Have a PLASTIC Water Bottle!””

  1. Melisa on August 31, 2010 6:59 am

    Another idea might be some sort of koozie (spelling?) around the stainless bottles? That way if they fall they won’t make as much noise?

    I commend you for being THAT mom!

  2. Lynn on August 31, 2010 7:04 am

    Thanks, Melisa! :) You made me laugh with the THAT Mom comment!

    And yes, koozies might be a good alternative – I thought of that too, but didn’t put it in the letter. Of course, as you can guess, we don’t have any koozies at home either – I tend not to pick that kind of stuff up when it is given out at fairs, etc.

    So now do we need a Green Mom koozie swap meet? :)

  3. Lori @ Groovy Green Livin on August 31, 2010 7:21 am

    wow-what a way to start off the school year! I can’t imagine a teacher requiring plastic bottles?? Less noise in a 3rd grade classroom???? Guess it is your opportunity to educate-which you certainly did in a very unoffensive way with your letter. Curious to hear what comes of this! good luck.

  4. Lynn on August 31, 2010 7:57 am

    Thanks, Lori! I will definitely let you know what happens! I was laughing through my frustration this morning as I knew it would make for a great blog post too! Who could make this stuff up? Oh, oh…maybe my son! Maybe he misunderstood…oh, no! :)

  5. Kim on August 31, 2010 8:51 am

    My son’s teacher *insisted* that kids had to bring juice boxes last year, instead of Thermoses. It killed me. I don’t get these rules. Glad you wrote the note–can’t wait to hear what happens!

  6. Lynn on August 31, 2010 9:40 am

    Incredible, Kim! I am just hoping my son didn’t misinterpret…that could be embaressing! But it’s fascinating to hear what other schools are imposing. And good luck with your new blog!!

  7. Stacie Shepp on August 31, 2010 10:25 am

    This is amazing, the short sightedness and overall “out of touch-ness” of a teacher, of all things. Sounds like she needs a little eco-literacy in her curriculum. Very good, and respectful letter you wrote – planting seeds for dialogue. I hope she responds as respectfully and proactively.

  8. Lisa on August 31, 2010 10:51 am

    Gankaku from Twitter here :)

    I’d be firm and adamant about the stainless steel bottle. I too chose stainless for the same reasons you gave, and got my son one as well. It’s important for our children’s health (as well as ours!) to reduce the number of things we eat and drink from plastic, to zero if possible! Your child’s health is important to you – educators shouldn’t dictate something that could be detrimental to your child’s health.

    Perhaps you could, like Melisa said, wrap it in one of those cushioned cozy things, or bubble wrap for temporary! Hopefully the teacher will be amenable to some brainstorming about this. Good luck and let us know what happens!!

  9. ~a on August 31, 2010 5:23 pm

    Goodness knows plastic bottles and METAL desks are loud enough in their own right. I’m think the students could just put their bottles on the floor? Carpet would muffle any loud banging.

  10. Summer on August 31, 2010 6:00 pm

    What blows my mind is that they have water bottles at all? Have I been out of school that long? We either had to suck it up til break, or fake a violent coughing fit to get an exception for the water fountain.

  11. Sarah on August 31, 2010 7:19 pm

    Fabulous note to teacher! Hanging here for the reply!

  12. Condo Blues on September 1, 2010 10:50 am

    I didn’t realize that almost all of the other children in class had metal water bottles too. I hope their parents also write the teacher. What type of green message does it send to the children that they have to replace their perfectly good water bottles with a new water bottle? That doesn’t sound like a green school message to me.

  13. Brenna on September 1, 2010 11:06 am

    How frustrating! I know that the schools in this district are trying hard to be more green, but they still make choices that leave me bewildered. I am surprised that this teacher is so adamant about the plastic bottles though! Hopefully she will come around. Do you know any other green parents in that class?
    .-= Brenna´s last blog ..Weekends… =-.

  14. Lynn on September 1, 2010 11:51 am

    Hey all – thank you so much for all of your supportive messages – I have been overwhelmed by all of the emails I’ve recieved, tweets, comments, etc – bottom line is the teacher responded that she would appreciate it if I would purchase a BPA-free plastic bottle such as a Nalgene because of the noise issue she’s had.

    I feel like a wus, but after much consideration, I bought my son a plastic BPA free bottle.

    I may yet get a “kozi” for the stainless steel and re-contact her, but for now, I’m back in “Green Mom Culture Shock” and just amazed by all of this. I’ve got to process it a bit more, get some REAL PAYING WORK done – and then will blog more. Thanks to all of you! — Lynn

  15. Susan @WhyMommy on September 2, 2010 10:15 am

    Wow! I’m shocked too. I sent my kid to school this week with stainless — no objections yet.

    Susan

  16. Lara on September 2, 2010 1:13 pm

    A sock over the water bottle would likely work as well as a “koozie.” I’m a knitter and have knit covers for my water bottles, but the shape is basically like the leg of a sock. I also have a water bottle carrier/koozie from BuiltNY that I like.

  17. Lynn on September 3, 2010 6:01 pm

    Hey Susan and Lara,

    Thanks for your comments! Ironically, I had a great koozie I gave away because I never thought I’d use it…

    I decided to let this “go” and preserve my political capital to work on getting the option to “opt out” of recess to go to the library revoked. Library and computer games ….or recess?

  18. Organic and Green Mom Blog | A Wonderful “Case Study” of My Tribe: The Amazing Women of the Green Moms Carnival at Organic Mania on September 17, 2010 7:06 pm

    [...] posts lately as I’m still in “Green Mom Culture Shock” with the saga of the “mandated” Plastic Water Bottle yet unfolding. Today, for instance, Big Boy came home with a bottle of Nestle “Pure [...]

  19. Molly on October 10, 2010 4:51 pm

    Oh boy. I’m a teacher and I totally don’t have an issue. My students are constantly dropping things like pencils and binders. They’re kids. It’s what they do!

    Curious to see what came of this.

  20. Kat on October 27, 2010 9:58 am

    Argh! Why do we have to consume, consume, consume?! That’s awful that she made you buy another bottle! That is such a luxury to be able to just go out and buy another bottle, and that’s so idiotic (I mean, of the teacher) to not want to utilize what’s available and what is chosen for good reasons. Besides, it’s your son’s health and that it should be *you* not a teacher making a decision about what he drinks from (and what can have serious effects on his well-being). Living abroad, I know a teacher’s requirement like that would not only be laughed upon, but also considered completely absurd!
    I was also going to suggesting just making a pocket/sleeve for the metal bottle, perhaps with fleece, to make it quieter and also help protect the bottle from the typical abuse it gets. :)
    I guess giving her a metal water bottle as a gift wouldn’t fly?

  21. Emily on March 6, 2011 1:15 pm

    That’s absolutely ridiculous that the teacher banned anything but plastic bottles… Talk about anti-eco-friendly! Kudos to you for writing to her about it though. Health comes before noise. And honestly, if people can’t deal with the sound of a dropped water bottle, I hope thy can deal with the destruction of our planet!

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