Mohawk student takes lead on capping use of bottles
BUCKLAND — Out of the billions of petroleum-based plastic water bottles purchased each year, only 29 percent are recycled in the United States, according to Mohawk Trail Regional School sophomore Caitlyn Wilkins of Heath.
About 54 percent of these bottles end up in landfills or — worse yet, from Wilkins’ standpoint — in the ocean.
Wilkins, who hopes to become a marine biologist, is leading a campaign to cut this petroleum-based waste at Mohawk. She wants to see the school district cut down its use of plastic cutlery and switch from old-fashioned “water bubblers” (in which people drink directly from a fountain) to a new-style water cooler designed to refill reusable water bottles.
“Our carbon footprint has gone up ever since we started making plastic,” said Wilkins.
“My objective is to get rid of the plastic water bottles in the vending machines, and to replace oil-based plastic eating utensils with corn-based utensils,” Wilkins said, at a presentation to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee.
During a PowerPoint presentation, Wilkins showed a photo of a “Mohawk” re-usable water bottle that has been designed by the school’s National Honor Society. She said the water bottles cost about $5 each — the cost of about four commercially available plastic bottles of spring water.
“I would really love for Mohawk, as a community, to get rid of those plastics,” she said. “Even through the recycling is awesome, it’s not enough to make this a greener planet.”
Wilkins talked about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is a massive gyre of garbage from land-based sources (80 percent) and from ships (20 percent). Wilkins said the plastics never deteriorate, and the shredded plastic is sometimes injested by turtles and other marine life.
School board member Robert Gruen of Heath pointed out that the University of Vermont has banned plastic water bottles, and replaced its drinking fountains with the type used to refill drinking containers.
“I’m so pleased you’re doing this,” said school board member Joseph Kurland of Colrain. “Sodas were banned about three years ago, and I saw that soda bottles were replaced by water bottles. You’re up against a lot of problems, including when you stop selling bottled water, the school loses revenue,” said Kurland. He also pointed out that the corn-based plastic utensils don’t decompose in compost piles as quickly as one would like.
Board member Suzanne Crawford of Hawley said the increased use of bottled water in the United States is ironic. “With some of the cleanest water in the world, we’re buying water,” she said.
Member Nina Anzuoni of Colrain noted that Mohawk recently received an award for its high-quality drinking water, which made it seem less necessary to buy the bottled water.
Besides working to cut down on the use of disposable plastic, Wilkins is co-chair of the Mohawk Key Club’s recycling committee.
“The Key Club does the recycling at the school,” said Amy Donovan, program director for the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District. Since March 2012, when Mohawk’s composting program started, the school has been composting roughly two cubic yards of food and paper-waste each week of school.
Donovan said the school also replaced Styrofoam lunch trays, which were only used on occasion, with paper-fiber, compostable trays.
Mohawk Principal Lynn Dole said school Facilities Manager Robin Pease is working with Wilkins and is researching the cost of “bottle-filler” water fountains.
“The next step for us is to work with staff within the building, to look at some of the ways we can make other changes,” said Dole.
She added that Mohawk’s 10-year-old recycling program was initiated by a student, as was last year’s composting program.
Donovan said Wilkins “is the embodiment of thinking globally, acting locally. She was thinking about the Pacific Garbage Patch and said, ‘What can we do here at Mohawk?’”
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277