Students from Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts hold their pirate ship made from plastic water bottles during a rally held on Bottled Water-Free Day at the Catholic Education Centre in March 2011. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

TCDSB set to become bottled water free (again)

  • April 25, 2012

The Toronto Catholic District School Board has reaffirmed a motion to make all schools “bottled water free zones” by September 2012.

“We’re the largest organization to ever tackle this in the country,” said trustee Maria Rizzo, who put the motion forward on behalf of all the board’s students.  “The TCDSB became a leader for social justice and the environment. Water is God’s gift to the planet and you shouldn’t sell it like a pair of sneakers. It’s as ludicrous as bottling air and selling it.”

Passed by a 9-2 vote, bottled water free zones will include a ban on the sale of bottled water on TCDSB property, including sale in cafeterias and vending machines, she said. The motion was passed unanimously last April, but was put back on the table because some of the trustees were questioning it and wanted to re-open it, said Rizzo.

“I think a lot of students were just very relieved that the TCDSB reaffirmed their commitment to something that they passed last year,” said Natalie Rizzo (no relation to Maria Rizzo), last year’s student trustee who recently won the Youth Leadership Award at the Green Toronto Awards for her work in helping to create a bottled water free culture.

It’s good for students to see that real social change takes a lot of work and time, said Luke Stocking, Central Ontario Animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

“When you’re really achieving something meaningful, it’s a struggle,” said Stocking. “There are setbacks and challenges and you have to meet those challenges… Building a better world is a lot tougher than hitting ‘like’ on Facebook.”

This change in schools will get students to think of water in terms of social justice, said Stocking.

“When we say water is a sacred gift and that it’s meant for everybody, it will also get them to think about our planet… And I’m sure it’s not going to be easy. There’s going to be some kicking and screaming.”

Trustee John Del Grande voted against the motion, along with trustee Sal Piccinnini.

“They weren’t providing us with enough information to understand the effects of what we were doing so a lot of issues were raised,” said Del Grande, citing low water pressure or possible lead in school pipes among his reasons. He argued at the board meeting it would cost $250,000 to retrofit all TCDSB schools with water-filling stations.

“I was uncomfortable with the whole motion, but I did several times express my support for the concept of getting there and the work of students in taking on this initiative,” said Del Grande.

“Our vending contracts expire Aug. 31 and Coke advised us that they would not be interested in renewing if bottled water was pulled out because they already have a ministry directive that they can’t sell soda…so now our staff is left to figure out between now and August what options do we have available to offer some vending options in our schools for students.”

He said this could be a safety issue, if students go off school grounds during lunchtime.

But Rizzo said they would be spending that kind of money to make sure water in schools is safe, regardless of the bottled water ban.

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