Earth Day: Jacksonville group works to reduce single-use plastic bottles at schools

Beaches Go Green is partnering with students to create and give out reusable water bottles

As we celebrate Earth Day we look at ways to make the world a better place. Among those is to cut down on our reliance on single-use plastic bottles which can be harmful to the environment and our bodies.

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 is to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic bottles, which can be harmful to both the environment and our bodies.

The problem

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 end up in 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 re-usable bottle initiative (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

The solution

Beaches Go Green, an environmental nonprofit, has partnered with seven North Florida schools to create clubs and give out free reusable water bottles -- starting with student-athletes.

“I would bring plastic water bottles every day almost,” said Zaeta Blakeslee Cowen, a Fletcher Middle School 8th grader.

“I played softball my whole life. So, I definitely used Gatorade bottles, single-use plastic bottles all the time,” explained 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. This is our club, our school, and our sponsor,” Fletcher Middle 8th grader Ainsley Baldwin said, showing off one of the bottles.

Beaches Go Green re-usable bottle initiative (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Fletcher Middle is located right near the beach, and that’s one reason why the school’s 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,” said Fletcher Middle School Principal Joe McKenzie.

Each reusable bottle from Beaches Go Green is made from aluminum and costs about $11 each -- 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. 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,” explained Veronica Shoff, a junior and one of the presidents of the Beaches Go Green club at Ponte Vedra High.

The future

Principal McKenzie showed us how one reusable water bottle can replace the use of 156 plastic bottles -- a significant and beneficial impact on the health of his students as well as the environment.

Beaches Go Green re-usable bottle initiative (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

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 a single-use plastic,” said Ponte Vedra High’s Brown.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.