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Earth Day turns 40Earth Day is more than just a day for our kids to plant trees and learn about recycling at school.  In 1970, the first Earth Day was a day of grassroots political protest against rampant uncontrolled pollution of our air and water.  It was perfectly legal to dump hazardous waste into streams and spew dark plumes of toxic smoke into the air.  And this is exactly what companies were doing.

The environment was not yet part of the national political discourse.  US Senator Gaylord Nelson had been working in vain for years to change that.   Finally, his idea for a day of environmental teach-ins galvanized people all across the country who were concerned about the environmental degradation they were seeing locally.   As interest grew, Nelson resisted trying to organize the event from Washington, preferring to let people celebrate Earth Day any way they wanted.  He wanted Earth Day to be a celebration of grassroots action.

Twenty million people from all walks of life self-organized to protest on behalf of our planet on that day.  Amazingly, they did this without the benefit of cell phones, twitter, or facebook.  If you want to get a sense for the historical context and the truly revolutionary nature of the ideas, listen to Nelson’s Earth Day speech in Milwaukee on April 21, 1970.

It worked.  By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established and the Clean Air Act was law.   The Clean Water Act followed in 1972.  The air and water in the United States began to recover.

How are you going to celebrate this milestone on April 22?  How about trying to go without disposable plastic for a day?  Pack Litter-less Lunches and  use your reusable bags and bottles.  If there’s an environmental issue that needs attention, find others who are also concerned and get together to do something about it.  In the spirit of Gaylord Nelson, go ahead and celebrate locally, any way you want.  Let us know how it goes!

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Aren’t you tired of being asked to buy wrapping paper, candy, popcorn, cookie dough, or magnets at your children’s schools? The offerings are often way overpriced, useless, or just plain bad tasting. Last fall, when I was trying to figure out what sort of environmental project to do at my son’s school, the PTO president complained to me about the girl scouts drinking bottled water at their meetings and how great it would be if they would use reusable bottles. It was like a lightening strike in my mind. YES! That is exactly what we need – reusable bottles for everyone! We convinced the PTO to sell stainless steel water bottles school-wide and make it a green fundraiser. Before it was all said and done, it was a town-wide school fundraiser, involving seven schools – the first one of its kind in town. We decided to price the bottles close to retail prices to keep them affordable and still generate some profit for the school. We ended up selling 1500 bottles to a school population of 3500 students and raising over $8000! This was truly something novel: we sold something useful and earth-friendly while raising money for the school. A win – win – win!

Bottled water has become so deeply entrenched in our society that some people can’t even imagine how to provide water at an event without it.  Say what?  Maybe I’m going to show my age here, but I actually remember living a good hydrated life, attending events, and even hosting events before anyone had thought of putting tap water in a disposable plastic bottle and charging 1000 times more for it!    Based on my experience BBW (before bottled water), I have come up with some ABCs for getting by without bottled water at your school with ease:  

water cooler

Access to tap water 

Provide access to drinking water throughout the school by maintaining water fountains and cleaning them daily.  Better yet, upgrade to bottle-less water coolers in the cafeteria and in hallways and install a water filter on the tap in the teachers’ lounge.  Offering chilled filtered tap water will allay concerns about the spreading of germs at the water fountains, taste of tap water, and water quality. 

Custom water bottles

Bottles that are reusable 

Request that students, teachers, parents, and other visitors to the school bring their own reusable bottles or mugs to school each day and to all special events. Consider having a reusable bottle fundraiser or simply issuing school water bottles to every student.  Custom water bottles with the school logo are a big hit with students.  Monies raised can be used to fund water coolers! 

Containers for serving 

Pitchers filled from the faucet or from water coolers can be used to serve tap water to students in their class rooms.  Large portable coolers filled with the help of a pitcher can be used to dispense tap water at large gatherings.  For those who forget their reusable bottles, it is important to have some biodegradable disposable cups on hand and a recycling bin to collect them. 

Pitcher

Portable cooler

Bottle free bliss

All in all, becoming a bottle free school is not as daunting as it sounds.  Life was good BBW!  Putting the ABCs in place is easier and cheaper than you’d expect.  The key to getting cooperation from the entire community will be establishing and communicating a school-wide bottled water policy and letting everyone know you’ve got the ABCs covered.

You’ll be glad you did because eliminating bottled water at your school will simplify planning and clean up for events, reduce the volume of waste, save parents money, model a sustainable lifestyle for students, as well as reap significant environmental benefits for everyone. 

Back2Tap’s mission is to encourage people to generate less waste by using Reusable bottles and bags instead of disposables, but if you really want to reduce your eco-footprint, you need to also just buy less “stuff”. There’s a great video that explains the hidden costs of all our “stuff” that is worth watching and sharing with your children: The story of stuff.
The Salwen family has taken this “less stuff” concept to a new level. A New York Times opinion piece this morning tells the story of this Atlanta family who decided to sell their huge house and give half of the proceeds to the needy: $800,000 (it was a really nice house). They have written about their experience in a book due out next month: “The Power of Half“. Their story reminds me of a book I read two years ago called “Serve God, Save the Planet” about Matthew Sleeth, a successful doctor, and his family who decided to downsize so that they could devote their energy to the ministry of protecting the earth.
Contrary to what they expected, both families were much happier and closer after they shed their extravagant lifestyles and made helping others their primary focus. Kevin Salwen, the father says: “This is the most self-interested thing we have ever done. I’m thrilled that we can help others. I’m blown away by how much it has helped us.”
The Salwens found that a smaller house put them in closer proximity to each other and led to closer family bonds. I’m not sure I’m ready to sell our house, but maybe I should view my growing sons and our ever-shrinking kitchen table situation in a more positive light. Maybe we don’t need a larger kitchen – all this closeness may not be such a bad thing!

Last June, math teacher and director of sustainability Kevin Merges arranged for the seniors at Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, New Jersey to get a surprise under their chairs at

RPS single bottle cropped

Sustainable Future bottles.

their graduation ceremony.  Seniors quenched their thirst from reusable bottles filled with tap water instead of bottled water during the ceremony.   Merges noticed in prior years that dozens of water bottles were only partially empty.  Mary Ganzenmuller, Vice President of the Board of Trustee worked with Merges to find this sustainable solution for the event.   Provided by Back2Tap, the stainless steel bottles were customized with the school logo and the words: Rutgers Preparatory School – A Sustainable Future.  According to Merges, the students were thrilled with their reusable bottles and plan to carry them proudly as they go forth toward their sustainable futures.

JJQ_8613

Seniors with their reusable bottles.Sustainable Future bottles.

It always feels good when a Back2Tap campaign at a school goes right. I was so psyched to hear that the reusable bottles and bottle-less water coolers were well received by the K-12 students at Lincoln – Hubbard School in Summit, NJ. So well, in fact, the students are lining up in the hallway to fill up their custom reusable bottles from Back2Tap. The kids say that they love the tap water because it is so cold and refreshing.

students refilling their reusable water bottles

students refilling their reusable water bottles

Bottle-less coolers are tied directly into the water line and provide cold, filtered tap water without the waste, expense and exposure to plastics found with traditional water coolers with the 5 gallon jugs that have to be delivered. Although Back2Tap does not sell bottle-less water coolers, we can recommend a manufacturer. Lincoln – Hubbard was able to use the profits from their stainless steel bottle fundraiser toward the purchase of the coolers. Best of all, this is one green initiative that will save the school money and the parents money while benefitting students health and ability to learn.

It was a true pleasure to get a phone call from Susan Murray, parent and owner of Waste Not Solutions of Little Silver, NJ. She described a community that wanted to take a proactive step and invest some of its precious Environmental Commission dollars in the community’s children and schools.

Led by Rosemary Brewer, the Little Silver Environmental Commission graciously donated 1000 custom, stainless steel water bottles to the students and staff at Point Road and Markham Place schools in New Jersey. The commission’s goal was to help students reduce the number of disposable plastic water bottles they use and to make a positive impact on the environment.

The school created additional enthusiasm for the program by holding a logo design contest for the students. The winner was rewarded with their logo on the schools’ bottles. The result is a fantastic graphic. Bravo Little Silver!

Back2Tap reusable steel bottles

Back2Tap reusable steel bottles

Back2Tap reusable stainless steel bottles

Back2Tap reusable stainless steel bottles

Being in the business of selling reusable bottles and recommending tap water, I cringe when I hear news stories about unwanted chemicals like atrazine in our public drinking water supplies.   Firstly, I worry about the possible long term health effects on people and critters. Secondly, I worry that these stories will drive people to give up on our public water systems and increasingly rely on bottled water.   Elizabeth Royte, author of “Bottlemania” has responded to the latest barrage of bad news about tap water in her article entitled: Every Story about Chemicals in Drinking Water is a Gift to the Bottled Water Industry.  I couldn’t agree more.

In a nutshell, bottled water is not a viable alternative to public water systems, nor is it necessarily any safer!  If you aren’t familiar with the gross inefficiency and wastefulness of bottled water compared to tap water, please watch our Back2Tap  video to learn about the life cycle of a bottle of water. 

What we need is continual improvement of our current public water systems.  So don’t give up on tap water – encourage the EPA to update drinking water regulations based upon up-to-date independently-financed scientific research.  We do need to be sure that our public water supplies are protective of health.  Support investment to improve our public water systems.  In the long run, it’ll cost us all a lot less than buying our drinking water in bottles.  In the meantime, if you live in an agricultural area, you might want to seriously consider filtering your tap water at home during the growing season.

Starting a small business has presented many new experiences as well as frequent moments when my partners and I look at each other and say – “Wow, did you ever think you’d be doing this?”  Dragging all our props into the convention center last Tuesday was definitely one of those moments.  We had no idea what to expect or how Back2Tap would compare to the other exhibitors.  Our booth turned out to be much better than some minimally adorned booths and pleasantly less commercial and cluttered than some big-time commercial fundraising company booths.  We offered free tap water, a much less exciting option than the free pizza, cheesecake, chocolate and candies offered at other booths, but those who partook were quite grateful to quench their thirst with a healthy alternative.

One of the best parts of the day turned out to be watching people’s expressions as they first looked at our booth – they seemed puzzled but curious.  Why was there a giant tower made of plastic bottles?  What exactly was Back2Tap selling?  Tap water?  It took about 2-3 minutes to explain why bottled water is so wasteful and how selling Back2Tap stainless steel bottles as a green fundraiser could help the planet and help a school community. Only one person had heard of us, and only two people had considered this type of fundraising campaign.  No other exhibitors offered a customized green fundraising item. Most of the other fundraising companies were offering the same old items- knickknacks, clothes, and unhealthy foods.  Clearly, we were offering something new and different to the PTO Today audience.

For most of the day, all four of us were busy giving our elevator pitches to groups PTO parents as they wandered by our booth.  I couldn’t help but notice that the booth across the aisle that had attracted lots of attention in the morning with its screen show and four active salespeople had quieted down by mid-day whereas we were still going strong.  I think we were able to maintain our enthusiasm because we really believe that our cause, reducing plastic waste, is good beyond profits, and we get genuinely excited by convincing other people of that.

 

We noticed that some exhibitors had signs boasting of 55% profit margins for their customers.  Is this number the best measure of a fundraising option?   High profit margins usually mean the items are overpriced to the customer or are very cheaply made.  We know from firsthand experience as parents and PTO volunteers that parents resent being asked to pay too much for fundraising items and lose enthusiasm when they are offered the same items they really don’t want year after year.  This is why we chose to offer high quality reusable bottles priced close to retail with a 20-30% payback.

 

Tim Sullivan of PTO Today concurs in his March 2009 PTO Today article entitled: “More to Fundraising Than Profit”.  Sullivan writes: “The best PTOs and PTAs aim to create a great community at their school, to grow parent involvement, to serve parents, and to help provide valuable resources for the school and the students.”  This is exactly what Back2Tap is trying to do – spread a green movement through the school communities that will bring people together around a shared sense of concern and desire to do something good for the planet, for themselves and for their school.

In addition to reducing waste and pollution, using  reusable bottles can definitely save you money.  The average person will save at least $34/year and the average family of four will save at least $136/year.  Here are the top ten ways to make those savings pile up fast:

10. Send your children to school with tap water in reusable bottles instead of  bottled water for their snacks and lunches.

9. Pack a drink with your brown bag lunch to eat at work.

8. Bring reusable bottles for everyone on car trips so you don’t have to buy overpriced drinks at rest stops.

7. When going to exercise, make your own sports drinks using powdered concentrate.

6. Fill bottles with tap water for the whole family when you head to the beach, mountains, museum, or amusement park  for the day.

5. Send your kids with extra bottles of water to all day events, meets, and tournaments in case tap water isn’t readily available. 

4. When you’re on the go running errands for several hours, bring a drink in your reusable bottle to keep your thirst quenched.

3. Don’t forget to bring water for yourself when you’re going to watch your children compete.

2. Bring your own margaritas or favorite mixed drink in your reusable bottle when you dine at BYOB restaurants.

1. Although I’ve certainly never done this, you could sneak your own tap water into the movies in small reusable containers.

For the healthiest, best performing reusable bottles, check out stainless steel bottles at Back2Tap.com!

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