The Possible Journey of a Piece of Litter


Say a single-use plastic bottle someway becomes litter – Imagine the possible journey of this misplaced item.  Best case scenario – you or I are strolling along, see it, and grab it.  It gets recycled and perhaps turns up again recycled into a nice fleece vest with a new life.  Or if it stays visible until March, maybe a participant of our local effort, Pick Up Boonville, snatches it and sends it to the recycling stream.

If not, perhaps the wind blows it to a storm drain or a river bank, when it rains it could flow into the Missouri River.  There is a slight chance someone from the Missouri River Relief effort retrieves it. During their 15th year in 2015, 1508 Volunteers removed 41 tons of trash along 57 miles of the river!  One year, after a 600 mile journey, a plastic Sioux Falls, South Dakota restaurant cup was rescued during the Hartsburg Missouri River Relief clean-up effort.

Or perhaps it rains for days either here or up-river, the river rises and deposits the bottle somewhere further inland where it remains for hundreds of years, or perhaps it lands on an island where someone finds it.  Or maybe the river rises again and meets it, lodges it out of the mud and sends it further downstream.   Maybe a boater will grab it or it could be so full of mud it simply sinks to the bottom of the Missouri River remaining there for hundreds of years.  Say it continues floating, and makes it to the Mississippi River.  Maybe one of Chad’s Mississippi River Clean Up participant will run across it. (This organization has been picking up now for 25 years!)  Or perhaps someone with a river home near Natchez, Mississippi will grab that bottle.  If all fails, it could float all the way past New Orleans into the Gulf of Mexico and join gravitate to the North Atlantic Gyre, a swirling pool filled with all things plastic.  Once there it could find its way to one of the five oceanic gyres – swirling heaps of garbage.   If we were on the west side of the Continental Divide, it could make its way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the size of Texas!

Then I think back to the beginning of this journey.  If we had bottle deposit laws or if that individual used a reusable water bottle instead, the journey would never have begun.   So, if you see a discarded plastic water bottle, don’t let it get away – Grab it!


Plastic Grocery Bags 101

Posted in the Boston Globe By Leon Neyfakh November 25, 2012

Many of us remember those glorious litter-free days before we became a disposable society.  Now we see single-use low-density polyethylene plastic bags cluttering the landscape snagged on fences and trees everywhere.  First introduced to the US in 1977, by 2012 90% of all groceries were bagged in plastic per the Associated Press.  The Sierra Club estimates 380 billion plastic bags are used in the US every year (1,200 bags per person!) requiring 12 million barrels of oil to produce.

Continue reading “Plastic Grocery Bags 101”

Single Use Plastic Water Bottles

In the early 1960s high-density polyethylene was introduced making plastic bottles inexpensive to produce.  By the early 1970s the food industry replaced glass with plastic – lighter & cheaper.  In the mid 70s, beverage containers became the fastest growing component of solid waste.  Reusable beverage containers required extra labor and valuable space so grocery stores welcomed disposables.   A private-to-social cost shift occurred.  Instead of the industry, now the consumer, municipal refuse collection and environment dealt with the waste.   Although deposit laws reduce litter & beverage container consumption, save energy, increase jobs and stabilize prices, they are difficult to pass and keep due to beverage and retail industries lobby efforts.  While Columbia, MO had a deposit law in place 1982-2002, the industry finally succeeded in repealing the law after 5 attempts.

The Pacific Institute reports in 2006, “producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation; Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water”.  Widely quoted – the US consumes over 50 billion single serve bottles of water a year – 95,000 per minute!  If an ambitious 23% of those are recycled, still over 38 billion bottles end up in the landfill or litter our streets, parks and waterways.    Once in the landfills, they slowly release toxic chemicals that leak into our water system.  Bottom line – Plastic is a non-renewable resource, it is energy and resource intensive to produce, highly toxic and takes 700+ years to biodegrade.

These disposables keep growing and growing.  Among other swirling pools, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now roughly the size of Texas with churning plastic bottles, plastic bags and Styrofoam.  These growing piles of plastic garbage have a devastating effect on sea life, threaten our wildlife and natural areas, and make our world less beautiful and healthy.

As though that isn’t enough – The Sierra Club reports the bottled water industry led by Nestle’, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are aggressively taping natural springs and aquifers, which can lead to depletion in wetlands, lakes and wells.  40% of bottled water usually comes from municipal tap water such as Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina brands.  They are commoditizing our access to safe and affordable water.

The marketers of bottled water have convinced the public that their water is cleaner, tastier and healthier than tap water.  It’s no wonder they are pursuing groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can.  They are making a fortune!  Consumers are willing to pay 1000-5000 times more for the privilege of drinking bottled water instead of tap water.

Is bottled water healthier?  Water is most frequently bottled in #1 PET or PETE bottles (polyethylene terephthalate).  Experts say those bottles shouldn’t be re-used since they may leach DEHP, a probable human carcinogen.  Bottled water is regulated by the FDA which has lower standards and inspects less frequently than the EPA regulations for tap water.  And the FDA doesn’t test any waters packaged and sold within a single state – 60-70% of all bottled water.

Sound overwhelming??  Remember – we are the consumers so we have some say!

Don’t buy single-use disposable water bottles!!  When home, use glass to avoid all possible plastic chemicals.  For water on the go, use stainless steel or a PBA free water bottles.

Filtered water – Use a filter pitcher, install a faucet-filter, or buy a bottle with a built-in filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria.  Under the sink osmosis filters are effective and convenient.

Entertaining – Get out the water jug!  Purchase a stash of reusable plastic glasses (safest plastics are marked on the bottom 2, 4, or 5) from thrift stores or #1 plastic cups that can be recycled.  Also use eco-friendly plant starch cutlery and biodegradable paper plates.

Recycle – Products made from recycled plastics are endless – Deck Lumber, park benches, fabric, clothes, carpet, and recycled art.  Plastic bridges are being built throughout the US.  Peeblesshire, Scotland has a 30 meter long bridge made entirely out of waste plastic products.

Join the Sierra Club and other organizations that fight for environmental causes & make your Votes count.

Pick up litter – Recycle what is fairly clean.

Good News – The Grand Canyon has banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles due to the threat to wildlife and to reduce waste. Other National Parks are installing water filling stations so visitors can fill their water bottles. Concord, Massachusetts recently banned single-use beverage bottles and Chicago instituted a 5 cent tax per bottle.

Progress is being made – Be a part of that change!  Speak up; spend your dollars wisely.