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One ReFill At A Time

East Williston resident stumping for greener future

The future is green and Wheatley School student Graham Turk is making it a point to remind you, one less plastic bottle at a time.


Turk’s environment-friendly initiative, the ReFill Project, which started in 2011 at the Wheatley School, seeks to reduce the use of disposable plastic water bottles in schools. Last year, the East Williston resident headed the installation of two water refill stations in the Old Westbury school’s halls.


The stations reveal how many plastic bottles have been saved, via a ticker on the fountain. The units have saved more than 15,000 bottles to date.


Turk’s goal is have local businesses sponsor ReFill bottles that he currently uses to distribute to schools. He attained grant funds and purchased the bottles. He sold 150 bottles earlier this year.


“With the 150 stainless steel bottles, that although it’s a small amount, you can see how far something like this can go a long way.

In the summer of 2011, Turk read Eaarth, by Bill McKibben, which detailed the change of the planet over the course of humanity. It struck Turk.


“[The book] talks about how the planet is going through changes based on the industrial impacts that we’ve caused…climate change, the effect of it. It also talked about how we change it for the better and suggest Earth needs to become more durable.”


McKibben’s influence on Turk, 17, grew to the point where he was compelled to act. He joined the Wheatley School’s Environmental Action Committee (EAC), which recycles the school’s cans and bottles each week.


“I saw, that even in a school of about 700 hundred kids, how much waste we were producing,” Turk said. “It became clear to me that there was a major problem here and if we were creating so many cans and bottles, what could this be like on a bigger scale, even all the districts on Long Island.”


Sustainability and preservation are two ideas that enter Turk’s mind on a daily basis. He thinks at the rate the planet is going, with its dependence on fossil fuels and globally threatening resources, major change is in order.


“If you go to countries in Southeast Asia, monsoons have been hitting at five times the frequency,” Turk said. “You really see environmental impacts [with climate change]. Although some people don’t associate it directly with climate change, there are major links.”


McKibben felt he was just a vessel and that Turk brought his ideas to life. “For a writer, there’s really no greater honor than having someone take ideas off a page and put them into action in real life,” McKibben stated. “I’m remarkably grateful.”


EAC advisor Steve Finkelstein, a biology and environmental science teacher at Wheatley, served as Turk’s advisor. He said the initiative is growing to North Side Elementary and Willets Road Middle schools.


“After all these years of plastic water bottle use in the East Williston Schools, Graham’s ReFill Project is finally helping us kick that bad habit,” said Finkelstein. “Plastic is made from oil, bottled water is not required to be tested for as many impurities as municipal water, and plastic bottles are known to leach toxic hormone disrupters into their contents.”


Turk is also discussing the adoption of the initiative in the middle school of the Carle Place School District.  According to Finkelstein, Andrew Schloss will take up the mantel after Turk, who will attend Princeton University in the fall, graduates this year.