Santa Monica High School Students pose with their collection of recyclables, which they use to purchase LifeStraws for those in Africa living without clean drinking water. The straws filter out bacteria, making water safe to drink. At any given moment, about half of the world's poor are suffering from waterborne disease, of which over 6,000 Ñ mainly children Ñ die each day by consuming unsafe drinking water. (photo by Benjamin Kay)

SAMOHI — When most seniors were leaving Grad Nite after a full night of fun, incoming seniors Megan Kilroy, Celina Stilphen and three other Samohi students came to school at 5 a.m. last Friday in search of plastic bottles, aluminum cans and other recyclable plastics.

“We basically just went through all the recycling bins and trash cans there,” Stilphen said.

These students are not looking to make a few bucks for the summer. Instead, they collect recyclables to exchange for LifeStraws — small, foot-long tubes used to filter dirty water for drinking in areas where there is extreme poverty.

“LifeStraws are a filter system,” Kilroy said. “They’re kind of like a giant tube and they have filters inside of them. They filter about 99.99 percent of bacteria.”

Kilroy, next year’s captain of Team Marine, the competitive marine science team, and Stilphen, co-president of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club at Samohi, have partnered their organizations for the past two months in an effort to collect as many disposable bottles and cans at Samohi as possible. Benjamin Kay, coach of Team Marine and a marine biology teacher at Samohi, gave extra credit to every one of his students who brought in at least 25 bottles and cans. Altogether, they have collected over 12,000 recyclables, Kay said.

“It’s a great way for the youth to become involved with saving lives and the environment,” Stilphen said. “If you really just don’t like to save the environment for whatever reason, you’re saving a life.”

Samohi’s Team Marine learned of LifeStraws through Michael Winters, coach of a competing team at Gabrielino High School, Kilroy said. Samohi placed second right after Gabrielino in a competition called the Edison Challenge.

“We met Michael Winters who started working with LifeStraws for his program,” Kilroy said. “We were really inspired by what he was doing so we thought, ‘Hey, let’s help you out.’”

Ever since, students have been diligently rooting through recycling bins and scouring the campus for bottles and cans. Kay holds sorting events every so often, and anywhere from eight to 20 students come in and help sort the recyclables.

Kay said each LifeStraw costs $5.50 including shipping. While exchange rates vary, most bottles are worth about five cents each in California, making each LifeStraw worth approximately 110 plastic bottles.

“We send massive quantities of these straws across the world,” Kay said, naming Africa and Cambodia in particular. The first batch to Cambodia will be sent this summer.

Team Marine is careful about the way they collect plastics, however.

“I don’t want to give a kid extra credit to bring in a whole bunch of cans — that might inspire a kid to go out to Costco and buy a whole bunch of water bottles,” Kay said.

Kay emphasized reusable bottles are the way to go, but certain plastics for things such as juice cannot be helped.

“We don’t want to promote the use of plastic,” Kilroy said. “But at the same time, because we can’t change the culture immediately, we’re trying to make the best of what we have.”

With the students’ enthusiasm for the project, the effort will continue full steam ahead although the school year is now over.

“Let’s try to get as many [bottles] as possible, let’s save as many lives as we can,” Stilphen said.

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