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.