There’s no doubt about it, the subject of plastic bottles is always going to be controversial with parents who care about their children’s health. First of all, I think that it’s important that you approach the school with your concerns and sound them out about how the bottles are being manufactured. Approach the company they use directly by email with a list of questions that you want answered. If you’re not satisfied with the answers you get, then lobby the school into changing its policy. Talk to other parents about your concerns and get some real ‘parent power’ going!
As far as the dangers of reusing plastic bottles go, the official jury is still out. The Government has not brought in any specific guidelines on their use. However, there are a number of issues campaigners have highlighted as potential problems:
1. In 2009, scientists in Germany discovered that bottled water can ‘leak’ estrogen into its contents, which could play havoc with the body’s natural hormonal balance. Glass bottles appeared to put drinkers at far less risk with 33% of water in plastic bottles containing hormones, as opposed to 78% of water contained in plastic bottles. This would seem to suggest that bottled water is less risky, but obviously water in glass bottles is not ideal for a playground full of lively kids!
2. However well washed the bottles are, bacteria is always going to be a problem when they are used over and over again. Although most of the bacteria will be perfectly harmless, there’s always a danger of infection however hard you scrub.
With regards to single-use bottles, you are quite right. Many green campaigners advise that single-use plastic bottles manufactured from polyethylene terephthalate (also known as 1 PET or PETE) aren’t used repeatedly for the reasons above. In this case, it’s a question of balancing health risks against the benefits of recycling. If you’re not happy about either maybe it’s worth advocating extra school water taps in the playground, or perhaps controlled use of glass bottles. Whatever the solution the school (plus the parents) choose, I hope you get the result you want.