The reason for that change is due to three students – Arielle Hancko, Katrina Eisenhart, and Ciara Gray – and a dedicated teacher, whose efforts to reduce plastic bottle waste have led to Mission Bay hosting the first reverse-osmosis water purifier ever installed in a San Diego high school.
The project began in August, when Steve Walters, a science teacher, noticed how much plastic was thrown away during lunchtime. He found three students willing to help him, and they spent 97 days collecting plastic from the trash cans after lunch. Together, they gathered more than 100 pounds of bottles, bowls, spoons, forks, straws, and plastic wrap. More than 90 percent of it could have been recycled. None of it was.
This effort was the start of a long campaign to reduce the plastic waste at Mission Bay High. After assembling the recovered bottles into a 6-foot-long plastic boat, the students showed their results to the school district, who agreed to use MBHS as a pilot school for their waste reduction program. With the help of a few motivated students, Walters took charge of the effort to turn their school around.
A large part of the plastic problem was the number of water bottles thrown away each day, and that was due in part to the quality of the drinking water at the school. Though MBHS sports a number of drinking fountains, students rarely use them, as they didn’t like the taste of the water.
Walters talked to the San Diego Pure Water Program, a project dedicated to providing San Diego residents with clean, sustainable water. The program offered to donate a water purifier to the school, and take care of maintenance for the first three years. After that, however, the school would have to raise the funds on their own.
The water purifier sits in the science room, on the other side of the wall from the renovated drinking fountain. The water flows out of a wall faucet, is filtered and stored in two 20-gallon tanks, and gets piped through the drinking fountain when a student presses a lever. The resulting water is much cleaner than you’d find elsewhere in the school, or even elsewhere in the county. “I haven’t touched San Diego water in years,” Walters said.
Next to the tanks are several boxes of aluminum water bottles. With the help of the Surfrider Foundation, Walters landed a corporate sponsor – Yelp – which agreed to donate 250 water bottles to the school. Walters is selling the reusable bottles at $5 each. Not only will they hopefully replace plastic bottles on the campus, but the funds will let the school maintain the water filter after the three-year grace period.
Though the project began with only three students, more are becoming interested as the project gains momentum. The group recently went to the Ignite conference for technical education, where they were awarded rookie division champion. Next stop is EdCo, the district waste disposal company, where they’ll showcase their plastic-waste boat in the hopes that something about the way schools handle plastic waste can be changed.
“Change is key,” said Walters. “It’s the most important thing a school could be doing right now.”