I’m from Northeast Tennessee where clean water is abundant and conservation tends to be low on the list of priorities. Two years ago, during my senior year of high school, I felt that there was a lack of awareness or concern about how much waste our school was contributing to landfills, and I noticed that a lot of people at school were drinking from disposable plastic water bottles—buying new ones and throwing them away on a daily basis. I wanted to find a way to encourage people to use reusable water bottles, cut down on their waste, and be more mindful about what they decided to throw in the trash.
Our environmental club decided to sell reusable water bottles with our school symbol on them along with a quote by Chief Seattle, saying, “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.” Our goal in doing this was to appeal to people’s school spirit, provide a short quote that might inspire people to question their assumptions have about how we should treat the earth, and entice people to stop throwing away so many water bottles by providing them with a reusable bottle.
We took the project a step further by using the profits from our water bottle sales to install a water-bottle refilling station on one of the school water fountains, which made it easier for people to refill—and therefore reuse—their water bottles. Fortuitously, our project ended up dovetailing with a local hospital project, which was trying to reduce how much soda people were consuming. The hospital helped provide the funds to install more refilling stations in the school in order to encourage people to drink water instead of soda.
Ultimately, two groups with completely different end goals—reducing waste and reducing sugar intake—were able to use identical means to reach their goals. My takeaway from this experience was that finding unlikely people or corporations to collaborate with can be very valuable, and the final objectives of the two partners don’t have to be the same in order to make great changes together.
In what other circumstances might we be able to unite in collective action to achieve a variety of goals?