Standing in line for water in preparation for Hurricane Irma, I wondered how many water bottles would end up in the landfill. After this manic push to collect the recommended three gallons per person per day of incalculable outages it will be the equivalent of a mountain. Having survived Hurricane Andrew, I know recycling is the last thing on victims’ minds. Twenty-five years ago, plastic water bottles were not as ubiquitous as they are today.
We pragmatically filled empty milk jugs and added a few drops of chlorine. The Good Year Blimp’s overhead message board warned us to boil water from the faucet before drinking. We now understand the risks of refilling water–or milk bottles. Bacterial growth is a real possibility. The bottles, intended for a one-time use, are flimsy and not intended for reuse. Washing them puts soap and detergent into municipal water supplies, a whole other issue.
Forty billion plastic bottles are produced every year in the U. S. Two thirds of them end up in landfills. Those which are recycled become some other sorts of plastic, mainly polyester. The majority of beverage bottles are exported to plastic manufacturers in emerging markets to make synthetic fabrics for clothing and carpets. According to Greenpeace, six of the largest soft drink companies used a combined average of just 6.6 percent recycled plastic. This excludes Coca-Cola, which declined to share a percentage.
Six billion pounds of plastic bottles get thrown out every year and only about thirty percent are recycled.
The American Chemical Council estimates the average consumer uses 166 plastic water bottles for convenience, creating unnecessary waste in landfills. This space is limited and it is nearly impossible for bottles in a landfill to biodegrade. Earth911 reports 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space is saved by every ton of plastic that is recycled.
Here in Alachua County, any plastic container is recyclable. Remove caps and lids and step on plastic to save space. I understand that gutting the wallboard in your house and piling up carpets and furniture at the curb don’t inspire one to set aside ubiquitous water bottles for recycling. But as high as those piles get, mountains of trash looming over our cities are inexorably becoming the alternative.