Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

The campaign to lessen plastic straw use in Westport no longer sucks.

The Whelk, Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, Amis, Viva Zapata, Dunville’s and the Black Duck have all joined in. Dunkin’ Donuts is in the process of phasing them out.

Now comes news that a place that serves many more customers a day than all of these combined — well, maybe not Dunkin’ — has joined the crusade.

RTM member Andrew Colabella tells “06880” that he heard from Deborah VanCoughnett, director of dining services for Chartwells, the company that runs food services for the Westport schools.

Andrew says they’ll severely limit plastic straw use when school starts later this month.

None will be on display. However, students who need one — for example, those with physical disabilities — can simply ask a cashier.

Andrew thanks fellow RTM member Kristin Schneeman, school superintendent Dr. Colleen Palmer, Bedford Middle School principal Dr. Adam Rosen and student Michael Rossi Pontoriero, and VanCoughnett for their work on this project.

It’s an important step forward. But bigger issues lie ahead.

Like plastic bottles.

Yesterday, I got an email from Samantha Henske.

Last year — as a 5th grader at Kings Highway Elementary School — she started a drive to eliminate single-use water bottles. She and her Workshop grouop sold reusable BPA-free water bottles to 400 KHS students. With the money raised, they bought a water filling station for the school.

Samantha Henske, and plastic bottles.

As she worked on the project, Sammi learned not only about environmental effects of plastic bottles (one year of manufacturing uses enough oil to fuel a million cars; a bottle in a landfill takes up to 450 years to decompose; plastics that get into fish and other sea creatures can end up as microplastics in our bodies), but that chemicals in BPA can lead to neurological difficulties and increased growth of cancer cells.

Now — as she enters Coleytown Middle School — she’s moving forward, townwide. Next month, she meets with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Green Task Force.

This is a sibling effort. She’s doing the research; her sophomore brother Spencer is working on design and technology.

The result is a Change.org petition. The goal is to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles in all of Westport. To sign — or learn more — click here.

9 responses to “Westport Schools Limit Plastic Straws; Student Takes Aim At Water Bottles

  1. Susan Iseman

    Great work, Samantha & Spencer!

  2. Michael Calise

    Simple solution. Which I have followed for years. If it’s in a plastic bottle don’t but it! Works every time!!!

  3. Alan Phillips

    Let’s try to cut down on plastic bottles at the beach.
    The town has added a freerefrigerated water station at compo by the lifeguard shack across from the bathrooms.
    Bring your swell and bpa free bottles and enjoy fresh fresh water.. Let’s save the ocean.

  4. Kristin Schneeman

    It’s very kind of Andrew to recognize me, but I really did nothing here other than ask the schools if they would consider signing on to this effort! Ms. van Coughnett very quickly responded that they were already planning to start the school year straw-free (students will be able to request them if needed). Thanks to them, Andrew, Dr. Rosen and Michael for their leadership on this. I’m sure Michael won’t have any trouble recruiting other like-minded students when school starts to explain the change to their community and get them behind it! With young people like him and Samantha and Spencer coming up through the ranks, my hope for the future is bright.

  5. Valerie Ann Leff

    Dan, thank you for publicizing this. Great work from the students! I immediately signed the petition and contributed $100. Hope other Westporters will do the same.

  6. Rindy Higgins

    This is so wonderful! It’s inspiring to have a 5 th grader take on what she did and also bring it forward! There is hope with this upcoming generation. Now if we could only get adults in line.

  7. Selina Huber

    Well done Samantha! This is a tremendous step forward for the environment and our town. Thank you!

  8. Mary Cookman Schmerker SHS '58

    Good work Samantha and Spencer. The future is bright with young people like yourselves taking an interest and looking for solutions.

  9. Seriously the coolest people in the world