Americans used to be camels. Now, as various comedians have noted, we come fully hydrated: Millions of people rarely step out without a water bottle nearby. The increased water consumption is healthy, doctors say. But the bottles aren’t.
Last year alone, more than 93 billion plastic water containers wound up in U.S. landfills. Laid end-to-end, that’s enough bottles to:
* Reach the moon and back 38 times;
* Circle the equator 371 times;
* Stretch the length of the world’s longest river, the Nile, 2,222 times;
* Line I-80 from New York to San Francisco 3,196 times;
* Span the length of California 11,556 times.
Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, health-conscious Californians alone will toss about 100 million bottles into the trash, estimated the state’s Department of Conservation.
That’s enough plastic to provide holiday shoppers with 48,000 fleece sweaters, 220,000 sweat-wicking T-shirts or 220,000 square feet of carpeting -- all alternatives to putting the bottles in dumps, where the material lasts indefinitely.
Nationally, the clear plastic bottles dumped into landfills annually could provide enough fiberfill for 3.3 billion ski jackets or 546 million sleeping bags. Enough white plastic milk jugs are discarded to build at least 800,000 playground structures, 8 million six-foot picnic tables, 15 million six-foot park benches, or 40 million 24-inch-cube flower planters, estimates Arlington, Va.-based Container Recycling Institute.
California’s Conservation Department is offering holiday shoppers an online national "green gift guide" that it hopes will encourage consumers to not only recycle but to buy recycled products, spurring more use of recycled material by manufacturers. California is one of 10 states with a recycling program that requires consumers to pay a deposit on drink containers.
Nationwide, however, recycling of water bottles has dropped for seven consecutive years even as consumption has grown astronomically, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Nearly three times as many plastic bottles were wasted in last year as in 1995, the institute said, with four of every five water bottles going into dumps.