“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.



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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