The throwaway life is no longer working. Recent estimates are that 50 billion half-liter bottles of water (30 gallons per person) are consumed in the US each year and that only about 25% of the empty bottles are recycled. Most of the discarded bottles end up in landfills. PET plastic in landfills never decomposes because it never receives air and sunlight.

Massachusetts is now looking to suspend its moratorium on garbage incineration because landfills are filling up. Potential hazardous emissions from incinerating plastics include hydrogen chloride, dioxin, cadmium, and fine particulate matter. Sulfur dioxide from factory emissions can mix with hot hair and cause destructive acid rain.

Other discarded bottles make their way into waterways and to the oceans. There are five swirling gyres of plastic debris floating in the world’s oceans. These gyres are growing at an alarming rate - the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is as big as the state of Texas. This plastic soup is affecting marine wildlife.

There is now evidence that discarded plastic bits are consumed by lanternfish which are small feeder fish that are eaten by larger fish such as tuna and mahi-mahi. We should be concerned about what ends up on our dinner plates.

What about recycling?

We think recycling is great, but recycling only solves one of bottled water’s many problems. Remember the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” (in that order). We want to reduce the amount of bottled water to begin with, which solves all of the problems with bottled water. For other beverages sold in plastic bottles, recycling is a good option. Sadly, bottled water companies have fought proposed bottle deposit legislation across the country. They have hamstrung the Massachusetts state legislature for 17 years.

"The Throwaway Life" Life Magazine, August 1955

Gyres of plastic debris