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EHS Sophomore Asks You to Reconsider Your Bottled Water

Austin Schuver, 15, invites the public to view a free screening of the documentary Tapped this Saturday at Enumclaw High School, examining the business behind bottled water and its impact on the environment.

As he wrapped up his last year as an eighth grader at Annie Wright Day School in Tacoma a little more than a year ago, Austin Schuver pondered what he wanted to do as his final school project - analogous to senior projects that high school students tackle in their senior year.

A lot of his classmates opted to volunteer at local food banks. Instead, "I wanted to do something that could make more of a difference," Schuver said. A teacher showed his class a short clip from the Story of Stuff, an online movie with environmental and social overtones, described by its creator Annie Leonard as a "20-minute cartoon about trash."

The film ignited a spark in the Enumclaw teen to learn more. The topic of 'trash' is in itself huge so Schuver set his sights on something he felt he could own: bottled water. "My parents and teacher were like, 'it's a big thing,'" he recalled. "I really wanted to do it [my project] on bottled water. I knew it was going to be a long-term project."

As he prepares to start his sophomore year at Enumclaw High School, that project is still going strong. In the last year, Schuver has worked hard to bring his message about bottled water to the community in which he lives. A lot of it involved writing letters to individuals including Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynold and Enumclaw Schools Superintendent Mike Nelson.

Reynolds helped to share his work in the community and even helped him put together a presentation to businesses including , he said.

"Austin knew my history as a councilmember in regards to standing up in opposition to Nestle's positioning a water bottling plant in Enumclaw and how I feel about bottled water," Reynolds said. "Austin was one of those individuals who had obviously spent a considerable amount of time doing preliminary research on bottled water that eventually lead him to my door in the first place. But there was also a level of enthusiasm and commitment on his part that made me realize this project was not just about Enumclaw it had the potential to be much, much larger."

He presented his project to the Enumclaw Rotary Club in December 2011 and this past May shared his work with .

So impressive was his knowledge base and preparation that all three local entities have given their support to Schuver as sponsors of a free screening of , a documentary about the bottled water industry, this Saturday at Enumclaw High School.

Additionally, the Rotary Club provided booth space for him this past July during the Street Fair to further educate the public and promote the screening event. (Patch blogger Doreen Anderson wrote about him in this July entry.) 

Nelson, likewise, has given Schuver use of the Enumclaw High School Auditorium for the film screening Saturday when he had trouble finding a suitable venue elsewhere in town. "Austin is an amazing young man and is wise beyond his years," Nelson said. "He has a strong sense for helping to make our world a better place by being conscious about the use of plastic bottles for water. He has worked very diligently to connect with local business sponsors in order to move his project from 'awareness' to 'action.' The public viewing of 'Tapped' on August 18 is one of the action steps that Austin created.  I believe one day we will see a documentary about Austin’s great work."

Schuver said first approached Nelson prior to enrolling as a student at Enumclaw High School to inquire about the water bottle vending machines available on campus and what recycling options there might be for disposal. It was a larger issue that needs further advocacy, he said. Now as a full-fledged Hornet, Schuver said he aims to keep pushing the issue through his high school career.

At the core of Schuver's project is to prove that the long-held belief that bottled water is always safer is simply not true, especially in American cities with well-regulated water and water treatment facilities. Schuver said he monitors the municipal water reports for Enumclaw, available online and in customer bill statements. The drinking water quality report for 2012 (also attached to this story) indicates "The City's drinking water is safe and meets or exceeds all federal and state requirements."

He said he's strategizing with Reynolds how to better encourage citizens of Enumclaw to use tap water - perhaps looking into installing more public water fountains. While convenient, fountains are pricey and require constant cleaning and maintenance, he said. "We're trying to make it more convenient to just refill a bottle," he said.

Whatever steps may come in the future, they'll require financial support, so Schuver is continuing his letter-writing campaign. Said Reynolds: "Austin Schuver is amazingly energetic and a very focused individual and will be a leader somewhere, sometime in our future… Watch this young adult mature into a highly successful position."

Saturday's screening begins at 7 p.m. at Enumclaw High School. Admission is free. The film runs 75 minutes. Schuver said those who can make a donation to his project will receive a free re-usable aluminum water bottle.

dexterjibs August 17, 2012 at 04:01 AM
I am guessing the people of Japan loved to see bottled water water after teh earthquake and tsunami. Also, the tornado victims in the south over the last 3 years were very appreciative of bottled water being shipped in. And just liek any other disaster that occurs and local water supplies are effected. Projects like this anti-bottled water campaign are cute, but the bigger picture is never considered and there are politicians that take up causes like this to use the power of government to make bottled water illegal and even more harm is caused than solved. Sorry.
April Chan August 17, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Good points, Dexter. Can't speak for all anti-bottled water campaigns out there but my impression from talking with Austin wasn't so much that he wanted to eliminate bottled water, but encourage people to look to their tap for clean and well-regulated water since it's there and it's pretty cheap. In situations where such a thing isn't an option, such as after a disaster or in less developed countries, I think bottled water would remain the best answer until someone comes up with a better and more sustainable solution. That said, I just used a half-drunken bottle of bottled water that was heating up in my car this afternoon to rinse my kid's hands after playing in the dirt. ... we do what we can.
Spring to the Tap August 17, 2012 at 06:12 AM
I appreciate your concern over the tragedies that have occurred, however the point of the project is to encourage sustainability in the everyday lives of people who have readily available sources of potable water. Why should Americans, who have access to arguably the cleanest municipal water in the world, rely on corporations to ‘sell’ them with a product that they already get pouring out of the taps in their home? Bottled water is never guaranteed to be better quality than tap water. An Enumclaw taste test showed that 34% of people could tell the difference between bottled and tap, in another only 35% preferred the taste of bottled. The bottles get littered or thrown away more often than they get recycled and stay in landfills for thousands of years. Bottled water also costs 4,659 times more than tap water. A 20 oz. reusable bottled can be filled once a day for 12 years and 9 months before the cost of the tap water reaches the price of a 20 oz. Dasani or Aquafina single use water bottle. By no means is the existence of bottled water being called into question, the existence of bottled water in the everyday lives of people in our community is being called into question. There are many products that are designed to give relief to people in need of assistance or resources in disastrous situations and some of those products are not practical for the everyday lives of people in our community.
John Anderson August 17, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Dexter, thanks for participating in these discussions. I enjoy reading your comments even though I disagree much of the time. This is one of those times. I think you missed the point of Austin's project by focusing on disaster relief, but he and April addressed that already. And I think one of his strengths is that he does see the big picture. But what bothered me most was calling his efforts "cute." It was dismissive and diminishes both the issue and the serious work Austin has done. It was like saying it was a nice child activity but not to be taken seriously, and he will outgrow it. The screening of Tapped is one event in a project Austin has been engaged in for two years, and it is not the finale. He has the perseverance to take on an issue that most people are unaware of, and patiently inform. One of his skills, rare in people of any age, is the ability to provide well-researched information about a controversial topic without being judgmental. That could be a reason he is getting such serious attention from a growing audience.
Doreen Anderson August 18, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Hi Dexter I certainly agree that emergency situations, like the disasters you mentioned, demand emergency measures. In an emergency here at home, I'd drink some of that bottled water stored "for emergencies" in my garage, even after this week of hot weather that probably leached more BPA from the plastic. Having recently learned more about this process, though, and the health effects, I'm going to come up with a new plan for storing emergency water. Like everyone else, we're always learning, and we make changes that make sense to us; other people do what makes sense to them. You probably don't have to worry about the government making bottled water illegal here. (1) What can our politicians ever agree on?! (2) The bottled-water industry is well-represented wherever law-making happens. (I did read about a small town in Australia and a university there that banned bottle water. So maybe....) Personally, I wouldn't mind some legislation about the industry taking more responsibility for disposal and clean-up of bottles, though. Taxpayers pay hundreds of millions of dollars every year for this. Like John, I don't agree that "cute" describes Austin's efforts. I'd use "remarkable". Cute is a 5-year-old penning a letter to Santa. Remarkable is a young teen informed, articulate and persuasive enough to get corporate, civic and community leaders behind his efforts. And I think if you met and talked to Austin, you might even agree on some points. See you tonight?

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