Scarborough 4th-grader on a mission to ban bottled water

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SCARBOROUGH — Did you know that Americans use 1,000 plastic water bottles every second, and that most all will end up in landfills, even though they can be recycled?

Nina Chase, a bright, soon-to-be grade 4 student at Wentworth Intermediate School, does. And she’s doing something about it.

Chase, 9, wants her school to be free of plastic water bottles, and hopes to form the school’s first formal environmental club.

Environmentalism permeates the recently completed new intermediate school, which has geothermal heating, solar panels, a garden and new drinking fountains with a special spout for filling reusable bottles. 

“Everything’s starting new, so why not start fresh?” she asks.

Most of her peers seem to agree: as of the last day of school in late June, Chase has gathered more than 500 student signatures on a petition to ban bottled water in favor of tap water and reusable bottles. 

Chase became interested in the environment a few years ago as she and her sister Mia watched “lots of nature shows” growing up in their home off of Spurwink Road. She loves polar bears, and is an avid swimmer. 

She said Monday she wants to “do her part” to help protect the things she holds so dear, so she decided to target her biggest pet peeve: plastic water bottles, which she says are unnecessarily sold in vending machines at Wentworth next to water fountains with paper cups.

At the instruction of her teacher, Mrs. Trombley, she crafted a colorful tri-fold display outlining all the negative impacts she found plastic water bottles have on the environment, namely pollution from manufacturing, transporting, filling landfills and disrupting animal habitats. Plastic bottles also take at least 1,000 years to naturally decompose, she found in her research.

Equally important, Chase calls attention to the plentiful clean tap water available to most Americans, especially Mainers, and the fact that much bottled water actually comes from the tap. 

“Tap water is cool!” her poster reads in bold letters, and she explains it is several thousand dollars less expensive than drinking bottled water annually. 

She proudly presented the research to her class, and after meeting with a local representative from Food and Water Watch, began raffling off reusable canteens to students.

As her movement began picking up steam this spring, Chase met with former Principal Anne-Mayre Dexter three times about the ban and forming a new club, ending in a compromise that she begin her petition and present her research during school lunches. She then spoke with the school nutrition department director, Judy Campbell, about taking bottles out of the school — also a fruitless endeavor.

But Chase didn’t give up, and continued sharing her ideas with students at lunch, which she said was “kind of nerve-racking.” 

Though she received lots of support from her classmates and superiors, by school year’s end, few had jumped into action.

“They weren’t doing anything about it,” she recalled, frustrated. “It was like they were saying, ‘Great idea, see you later.’”

But Chase is hopeful her new environmentally savvy school and new interim principal, former assistant principal Kelli Crosby, will be ready for an environmental club (which she wants to name POLAR kids, for protect our land and resources) and a possible ban on plastic water bottles. 

Though unable to give a number, Campbell said Tuesday the school makes a sizeable profit off of selling plastic water bottles from vending machines, and outside groups using school gymnasiums purchase the bottles too frequently for the school to stop carrying them.

However, Campbell said, the new school could bring about a new wave of environmental consciousness. 

“I think (her idea) is wonderful,” she said. “I don’t have any problem with it whatsoever.”

Nina’s mother, Molly Chase, has been by her side and continuously impressed by her once “very shy” child’s resilience in the face of bureaucratic red tape. 

“To see her battling is amazing,” her mother said. “It tends to get very convoluted and political, and at 9-years-old, it’s hard. It’s been a huge learning process. There are college campuses trying to do this.”

Despite her many triumphs in this ongoing project, Chase said the accomplishment she’s most proud of is “converting” one of her classmates to tap water.

“She really loved her plastic water bottles, she’d bring it everyday,” she explained. “But for the last few days of school, she drank from her canteen!”

That classmate, her mother said, is “going home and educating her parents.”  

“That’s the idea,” Chase continued. “Just getting the word out.” 

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or scarignan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.

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Nina Chase, a rising fourth-grader at Wentworth Intermediate School in Scarborough, gathered more than 500 signatures before the end of the school year in favor of banning plastic water bottles at the new school. She hopes to continue her work and form an environmental club when school opens in August. 

The vibrant tri-fold displaying Nina Chase’s water bottle research now sits in her Scarborough living room. She presented the work to her peers and teachers during the school year and will bring it back in August to gather support for a ban on plastic water bottles at Wentworth Intermediate School.

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