JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While we set aside one day a year to celebrate Earth Day and focus on ways each of us can protect our planet, there are things we can do every day that are simple and meaningful.
One example would be reducing our reliance on single-use plastic bottles, which can be harmful to both the environment and our bodies.
Cheap, convenient, and made from petroleum, plastic first surfaced in the 1950s.
Since then, factories have produced 9.1 billion tons of it.
Today, we see plastic products everywhere, which include plastic bottles.
The proof of their popularity is in the numbers:
- We use 1.2 million plastic bottles per minute.
- Americans buy 50 billion water bottles each year.
But a whopping 91% of the plastic we use is not recycled, and ends up in our landfills to break down into tiny toxic chemicals. Those chemicals leak into the environment, and 14 million tons of plastic goes into our oceans every year.
It’s not just the environment at risk.
Studies have linked plastics to health problems, from birth defects to cancer.
Beaches Go Green, an environmental nonprofit group, has partnered with seven North Florida schools to create clubs and give out free reusable water bottles -- starting with student-athletes.
“I would bring like, plastic water bottles every day almost,” said Zaeta Blakeslee Cowen, an eighth-grader at Fletcher Middle School.
“I played softball my whole life. So, I definitely used Gatorade bottles (and) single-use plastic bottles all the time,” added Taylor Brown, a junior and co-president of the Ponte Vedra High School Beaches Go Green club.
Ponte Vedra High and Fletcher Middle are two of the schools teaming up with Beaches Go Green.
“These are our Beaches Go Green water bottles,” Fletcher eighth-grader Ainsley Baldwin said. “This is our club, our school and our sponsor.”
Fletcher Middle School is located right near the beach, and that’s one reason why administrators say it hasn’t been that hard to change kids’ minds about plastic.
“(The) swim team is getting water bottles. We just got a sponsor. They’re going to make them. It’s awesome,” Principal Joe McKenzie said.
Each reusable bottle from Beaches Go Green is made from aluminum and costs about $11, which is mostly paid for by sponsors who get their logo on the bottle.
“We tell our athletes when we distribute the bottles that plastic is non-biodegradable,” said Veronica Shoff, a junior and one of the presidents of the Beaches Go Green Club at Ponte Vedra High. “So, every single piece of plastic that was ever created is still here and will always be here on Earth. So, that plastic will never ever go away -- which is why it’s really good to reuse.”
Principal McKenzie showed us how one reusable water bottle can replace the use of 156 plastic bottles, which is a significant and beneficial impact on the health of his students, as well as the environment.
Beaches Go Green is working on more sponsors and more schools. The hope is for every student to get a bottle, and a lesson, for free.
“Our goal is to basically eliminate single-use plastic, but mainly, to educate the youth,” said Morgan Eaton, with Beaches Go Green.
And the students are taking that goal seriously and working to protect their bodies and the environment -- eliminating plastic in their lives, one bottle at a time.
“It is to reduce as much single-use plastic as we can, to influence them, to influence their children and their children and the grandchildren, great grandchildren, future generations -- to just stop leaving their print on the Earth in a negative way, such as single-use plastic,” Taylor said.