Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plastic Water Bottles at Ampang... by the numbers

It's been brewing for a while... subtle comments here, more deliberate conversation there, a discussion about what to do about it a little further down the hallway.. plastic water bottles at ISKL seem to be a common point of concern for most. How can, after all, a school promote environmentally-appropriate behaviors and simultaneously afford its students, community and guests the necessity of clean water?

On one side we have those who argue that five times more water is used to make the bottle itself than is stored in it, and that plastic is forever, reaching far shores out of sight and out of mind for most (Midway Island is a good topic for a YouTube short film of two), killing animals, destroying ecosystems and polluting human population centers along the way.

On the other side are thos who contest that we are a school... what better a place to educate our sons and daughters about the benefit of reusing and recycling. Eliminating water bottles by decree would not be as effective in the long term as teaching students to reduce, reuse and recycle for themselves. After all, our recycling program is working rather well as it is.

This entire discussion prompted an admittedly informal and non-scientific inquiry into ISKL's water bottle usage. It comprised of just one question: How many water bottles do we use at ISKL?

The appropriate reference point seemed to be Connie's Corner, the source of most water bottles on the Ampang campus. It should be noted that Connie's has been extremely supportive of our environmental efforts throughout its long history at our school and this blog is by no means intended to place blame on their operation but rather to identify the demand that ISKL has on water bottles.

Connie's informed me that the concession sells approximately 20 boxes (24 bottles per box) per week on average. More water is purchased when we have special events, such as SEA Forensics, International Fest or IASAS, hosted at ISKL. Likewise, short weeks might results in a smaller demand.

So, if Ampang sells 480 water bottles per five-day week (or roughly 96 bottles per day), and our school year is 180 school days long, it would seem reasonable to conclude that, as a ballpark figure, we use 17,280 bottles of water at the Ampang campus, excluding special events. It should be noted that this number does not include bottles from non-water beverages such as ice tea and fruit juices.

According to our HS Counseling Office, our current (as of November 20th) Ampang student population stands at 981 students (HS: 618; MS: 363). Our adult working population stands at roughly 190. Given these numbers, the 17,280 water bottles equates to roughly 14.76 per person (in school).

Some might see this statistic from one perspective: This could indicate that our population reuses their bottles, as they are expected to do. Certainly this would be a success considering what our demand might have been if we were using one bottle per person per day: 210,780 bottles.

On the other hand, we might compare our current number (17,280) to what might be if everyone used just one reusable bottle/cup throughout the year: 1,171.

It seems likely that, though we should celebrate what we have accomplished in comparing ourselves to the "what could have been", we should simultaneously continue working towards the "what should be".

Either way you look at it, the reality is this: As a school in a time of challenging environmental times, with a vision statement and Student Learning Results making appropriate note of the environment, it is important to be an example and to move forward towards reducing our footprint as well as educating our community about the decisions we all make on a daily basis.

As a community we need to recognize the impact of our everyday decisions, the implications of these decisions when projected onward throughout a lifetime, and empower ourselves, our families, friends and colleagues to make small changes today, tomorrow and the next day. If we can reduce the number of bottles to 17,279 tomorrow it would be a start.

Remember, before we recycle, and before we reuse, we should be actively determining ways in which we can reduce. It is only through reduction, in the end, that we can truly say that we are making a difference.

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