Can We Please Stop Serving Plastic Water Bottles at School Events Already?

Portrait playful preschool boy covering eyes with animal crackers during snack time

I’ll confess right now: My family is in no way a model specimen of eco-conscious living. Far, far from it. 

But with my kids learning about the impact their habits have on the wider world (mostly from school, to be honest), they’ve started to speak up about the ways we’re being wasteful. So we stick snacks in reusable containers instead of plastic baggies, we put metal spoons in lunchboxes, and my youngest reminds me to not run the water while I brush my teeth (and there went my 30 seconds of peace). 

Their school seems to be practicing what they preach, too, sending emails instead of paper notifications, planting a sustainable community garden, and recycling up a storm. When it comes to class celebrations, though, umm… what the heck is going on? 

It’s like all of us, in our peak party frenzy, forget that our planet’s in the ICU. All year, we “blah blah blah” to kids about recycling and not being wasteful, yet we inundate classrooms, school fairs, and sports events with all kinds of plastic crapola, which ultimately ends up in a landfill. 

And yes, I realize I’m as guilty as anyone. 

What can we do to keep school events feeling festive without putting a plastic fork in the earth? We could start by dropping these party mainstays like hot potatoes:

Disposable water bottles

Is there a parent more quick-on-the-draw than the one who signs up to contribute water bottles to the class party? I’ve been That Mom, many times, and felt the flush of victory for having dodged a more time-intensive task.

But I’ve become more aware of the environmental impact of my decisions, like that 70% of single-use plastic water bottles are not recycled (YIKES). I’ve felt guilty about sending such a heaping pile of plastic to school. Juice boxes and their mini plastic straws, in their tiny plastic wrappers, are no better. They’re hard to recycle and destined for the trash heap, too. 

Solution: Switching to a couple of Brita pitchers to refill the reusable water bottles kids bring from home, or to fill a set of recyclable paper cups. 

It’s not just an eco-conscious alternative to single-use bottles, but pitchers are great for giving kids practice and independence in the skill of pouring. We’ve cut can and bottle use at home, too, by keeping a pitcher on the dinner table — and, bonus, no one has to leave the table for a refill. 

Balloons

Sure, they’re festive, but at a class party with a half-dozen other activities going on, does anyone really need the balloons? Balloons aren’t exactly environmentally friendly, given that wildlife can get caught in the ribbons or mistake the bright latex for food. If that’s not enough reason to skip ‘em, many schools won’t allow balloons anyway; they’re a choking hazard for younger children, and more districts are going latex-free. 

Plastic tablecloths

A simple switch to the paper version will serve the same purpose and keep a large swath of plastic out of a landfill. Or even better, bring in or donate cloth versions for the classroom, and rotate volunteers to bring them home to wash. 

Metal cupcake liners

If your school still allows home-baked treats (and, umm, major mom-props to you for baking them), here’s another way to make a difference: Use wax or parchment paper cupcake liners over the traditional ones. If your school has a compost bin, both are compostable. Aluminum liners? Turns out they’re just more (unnecessary) waste.

Single-serving snacks

The packaging on individually-wrapped granola bars and other snacks, isn’t recyclable. You can buy snacks like pretzels and goldfish in bulk instead though. And here’s a creative way to dole them out: In mini, colorful ice cream cones. This has been one of my go-to, low-maintenance party moves for years, and they’re always a hit. Plus, zero cleanup!

Plastic favors in plastic bags

I used to be a textbook goody-bag giver. I mean, even if parents loathe them, kids are always enamored. But after three kids, and many years of being on the receiving end of dozens of these barfy bags with their contents scattered on my car floor or in every corner of my house, destined for a landfill, I’m now squarely with the minimalists. (And if you give any of my kids a plastic whistle, we can’t be friends.)

Paying attention to all this stuff can feel really exhausting. I mean, we all have enough to think about. 

But here’s something to keep in mind: Our kids care about the environment more than any other generation has, and with good reason. This is the world they’re inheriting for themselves and their own children someday.

The class party may be one of the last frontiers of plastic excess, but the school celebrations of our childhoods didn’t have half the decorations, or give us neon, mini blow-up soccer balls ⏤ and we turned out pretty great. 

Brita® water filtration systems deliver cleaner, great-tasting water without the waste. You can replace 1,800 single-use plastic bottles a year with Brita.