For Isabella Pardales, it’s simple math. Americans now drink more bottled water than soda, though studies show it’s no healthier than tap water, it takes at least 1,000 times more energy to produce and transport, and only one in five plastic water bottles is recycled.

To help reduce the tons of plastic that winds up in landfills, rivers and oceans each year, Pardales launched a “Take Back the Tap” campaign at Yarmouth High School last fall. Adopted by more than 170 colleges across the United States, the campaign encourages students to drink tap water from reusable bottles rather than buy bottled water.

After attending a Sierra Club training session, Pardales worked with the Global Action and Green Voices clubs at the high school to promote awareness of bottled water waste. That included passing out “Take Back the Tap” stickers for reusable water bottles.

“I wanted to provide students with an easy way to make a difference and help the environment,” Pardales says. “When I saw those stickers on reusable water bottles all over campus, I knew the campaign was successful in educating students. It definitely started a conversation that needed to be had.”

Pardales, 17, says she also knew that a total ban was impossible because bottled water sales make up a significant portion of school cafeteria revenue. Still, she was pleased when the class of 2017 recently decided to install a $500 water bottle filling station in the cafeteria as a gift to the high school.

“It shows that our class is environmentally conscious and wants to make an impact on future students,” she says.

Pardales spent a month before her junior year living with a family of shepherds and goatherds in eastern Mongolia. Raised vegetarian, Pardales ate mostly root vegetables while she was there, but she developed a keen awareness of global environmental struggles.

“I lived in a yurt and had 10 brothers and sisters with my host parents,” Pardales says. “I had an amazing time and came back able to speak conversational Mongolian.”

A talented artist, Pardales was a Winslow Homer High School Fellow last summer at the Portland Museum of Art, where she came to see the connection between museums and the natural beauty depicted in their collections. She plans to attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, where she’ll major in environmental studies and minor in studio art.

“In the future,” Pardales blogged, “I see myself working with museums to make sure they act as environmental stewards in their own communities.”

Read all 2017 graduates to watch profiles.

— By Kelley Bouchard

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