What happens when you give free eco-friendly water bottles to thousands of high schoolers? You get a drastic reduction in plastic waste.

Or at least that’s the idea behind a new partnership between the City of New York and sustainable bottle manufacturer, S’well.

Too many plastic bottles

Over 320,000 high school students across all five New York City boroughs will receive a S’well or S’ip by S’well reusable bottle for free. The hope is that the students will eschew plastic bottles - more than 54 million of them. They’ll also save themselves around $250 a year.

Image: 2017 NYC Residential School, and NYCHA Waste Characterization Study

And that’s not all the initiative hopes to achieve: it also aims to instill in high school students the importance of minimizing waste.

The campaign will be supported with a wide range of programs and events that foster knowledge around sustainability, cultivate mentorship opportunities and encourage people to take action.

It’s a year-long program launched to coincide with Climate Week NYC and in support of New York City’s Zero Waste goal.

The city is committed to becoming a worldwide leader in solid waste management by achieving the goal of “Zero Waste by 2030”. And it is well on the way, with a recent study showing that New Yorkers are producing less domestic waste than ever, despite their population increasing.

Preventable waste

Single-use plastic is a major source of preventable waste. Every month, Americans throw away enough plastic water bottles to fill the Empire State building. Plastic waste ends up in landfill, but also in waterways and ultimately in the food chain.

“We cannot simply leave young people to inherit and then solve our environmental crisis tomorrow, we must equip them with the resources to take action and make different choices today,” said Mark Chambers, director of the New York City mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

“We are honored to partner with S’well, our students, and our schools to end single-use plastic waste and transform how we live, work, and play in our city.”

Among the city’s other eco-friendly initiatives are plans to meet global climate goals, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. This includes accelerating the pace at which the city reaches an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. It has also launched a scheme to expand access to lower-cost solar.

The World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit took place in New York on 24-25 September to drive solutions for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on climate change.