Watching the tube the other day, I thought I caught a commercial from a water-filter outfit that said the USA uses enough plastic water bottles to circle the Earth 19 or 119 times every week or every day. Is that possible? And who would take the time to place them end to end in order to find out? I do have better things to ponder, but this one has me visualizing a sea of plastic water bottles slowly rising to take over.
— D. Witkoff, Clairemont
Can’t say I saw that particular advert, but there are plenty of claims by environmental groups that American plastic water bottle usage will bury us beneath a polyethylene Everest in no time flat. Some people estimate that 1500 bottles get used every second. You can safely assume that if anyone has a vested interest in the matter, the data is chosen to prove a point, be it “buy water filters” or otherwise. The best raw data comes from bean-counters at the EPA, who estimate that PET bottles (used for water and soft drinks) generate over 2.7 million tons of municipal solid waste every year. From that figure, it’s just a series of simple maths and averages to assess how many water bottles that would imply and just how many times they would be able to circle the Earth if laid end to end. My guess is that it’s not as bad as the most dramatic estimate, but still pretty astonishing.
There’s some credence to dreading that rising tide. Call it “BottleMageddon,” if you will. Turns out less than a third of those 2.7 million tons of bottles gets recycled. The rest end up in landfills where they break down over the course of years due to sun exposure. The plastic never biodegrades, it just turns into ever smaller pieces, most of which end up getting washed out to sea and wind up inside fish and birds in a gnarly process of endless downcycling. I don’t like to go around ringing alarm bells, but it’s hard to say the thought of little plastic bits floating around the ocean is anything other than gross.