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Wellesley groups confront plastic waste issue

There are big efforts being made in Wellesley to deal with the huge problem of plastic waste. The problem has been escalating for many years, and China’s changes last year in the standards for buying recyclables has led to a very limited market and a heightened need to reduce plastic waste.

Wellesley High School students in the Evolutions program worked on a project this year to reduce disposable water bottle usage at Wellesley High School. They collected data as to why people used disposable water bottles instead of reusable ones, and collected empty disposable water bottles to make a visual about plastic waste. They made signs about all the reasons not to use disposable water bottles, and reasons to use reusable ones, such as “reusable bottles everyday will make help make pollution go away.” They showed statistics, such as “14 billion pounds of trash, mostly plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year” and “Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste every year but only recycle 1.7 percent of it”. They also sponsored a contest that awarded gift cards to students who brought reusable water bottles.

Three years ago, the Wellesley Public Schools stopped using water bottles at most parent, teacher and student events, replacing them with beverage dispensers. These beverage dispensers have been used at many events, including team dinners, sports banquets, school dances, school fairs, faculty events, parent events, auctions, graduations, college reunions, church events, Town Meeting and more. It has saved using many thousands of disposable water bottles and saved enormous amounts of plastic waste.

Last April, the 5th grade Girl Scout troop at Hunnewell School did a project to encourage the Wellesley community, from teams to civic groups, to forego single-serve water bottles for an entire weekend. The Girl Scouts sent letters to the school principals and various organizations in town to make them aware of the effort. In 2016, the Girl Scouts instituted a Gold Water Bottle Challenge at Hunnewell, which is still going strong. The challenge has classrooms competing for the highest percentage of reusable water bottles on the first Wednesday of every month; the winning class gets a gold water bottle to display in the classroom for the month.

Other groups in Wellesley are also helping to spread the message about reducing use of disposable water bottles. The Playing Fields Task Force asks sports organizations to encourage parents to send kids to practices and games with reusable water bottles. It costs the Town of Wellesley a considerable amount of money to dispose of trash at the sports fields and recreation areas, and much of the trash consists of reusable water bottles. In addition, the fields are often full of litter consisting of disposable water bottles after practices and games. All municipal buildings in Wellesley, including all the Wellesley Public Schools, have water bottle filling stations and many fields have water fountains to fill reusable bottles.

Businesses like Roche Bros. are also joining the movement to reduce plastic waste. Wellesley Green Schools asked local stores that sell corsages and boutennieres to consider using something more environmentally friendly and less wasteful than the plastic clamshell containers they typically utilize. Roche Bros. agreed and found an eco-friendly alternative, to which they will transition this spring. This change will save tons of plastic waste from all the formal events in which corsages and boutonnieres are exchanged.

There is no easy solution to the plastic waste problem, but there are definitely ways to reduce waste. Thankfully, Wellesley’s various groups are fighting the good fight.

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