Water bottle refilling stations already a success at Fayette high schools

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2013 

It takes roughly a dozen Rosies to hold 3,600 uncrushed plastic water bottles.

That is about the number of plastic water bottles now being kept out of landfills each week, thanks to a project by some students in Lexington's public and private high schools.

The Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council, made up of 30 environmentally conscious students from the city's high schools, recently developed plans to put water-bottle refilling stations in each of the city's high schools. Council members figured students could significantly reduce the number of discarded plastic containers at landfills if they refilled their water bottles instead of throwing away empty bottles and buying new ones.

The project was spearheaded by Marie Armbruster, a Lafayette High School junior, who said the council had been looking for projects to undertake this school year.

The council was concerned about reports that every second, Americans discard an average of 1,500 plastic bottles — which reportedly take between 450 and 1,000 years to break down in a landfill.

Elkay, a company that sells water fountains, contacted the council about the water-refilling stations that the company also makes, and the idea of putting stations in each high school began to take shape.

"We communicated to all of the principals that this was something we wanted to do," Armbruster said. "We had to go into the schools and decide where the stations would go, ... and the schools were on board with receiving them."

Kentucky American Water Co. provided a $6,400 grant for the project, and the Fayette Schools' Child Nutrition Department added $1,000 to help defray costs. A parent put up the money to install one refilling station. Elkay also helped, Armbruster said.

Two refilling stations were installed — in cafeterias and other easily accessible spots — in each of Fayette County's five public high schools. An existing water fountain had to be converted for each refilling station. Stations were equipped with meters to record how many refills occurred each day.

Their idea quickly made a huge splash.

Officials said 3,637 plastic water bottles were refilled in the first week after the refilling stations were installed at Lexington's five public high schools in early February.

Refill numbers have grown at such a rate that, after a full year, 128,750 fewer non-biodegradable plastic bottles would be going into area landfills, Fayette Schools officials have said.

That number is expected to grow when Lexington Catholic High School and Sayre School install their refilling stations in coming weeks. Lexington Christian Academy already has a station.

Fayette School Superintendent Tom Shelton said the project has allowed educators to learn from students.

"They've taught us ... and shared an idea with us where we can make a real impact in our schools," Shelton said during a news conference earlier this week.

Armbruster said students are looking for ways to expand the project.

"We were really kind of surprised at how successful it was," she said. "At Henry Clay, they said that some days, there was a line of kids waiting to refill water bottles."

Roshnee Raithatha, a Henry Clay senior and student facilitator for the sustainability council, said students quickly bought into the project.

"Once they saw the stations installed, everyone was very excited," she said.

Armbruster said the sustainability council isn't sure where the program will go from here, but interest remains high.

"Some middle schoolers and central office employes have said it would be a cool thing for them to have," she said. "It will be interesting to see where it goes."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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