Hydrated Health Nuts Get Mixed Message in a Bottle

STATISTICS SHOW CALIFORNIANS are drinking their required eight servings of water a day. The problem, according to a report published this summer by the California Department of Conservation (DOC), Sacramento, is that residents are not recycling their empty polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. According to the report, more than 1 billion water bottles wind up in California's trash each year, leaving an estimated $26 million in unclaimed California Refund Value (CRV) deposits.

“We looked at water bottles specifically because water bottle sales have grown exponentially,” says Mark Oldfield, DOC spokesman. “Consumers are being healthy by drinking their water, but they're not doing the healthy thing for the environment by recycling their water bottle.”

Oldfield says 70 percent of California residents have curbside recycling. “Our research tells us they're recycling when they're at home,” he says. The DOC estimates that the same consumers who recycle materials at home are not recycling water bottles when they're on the road. Consumers who commute, Oldfield says, are likely to have empty water bottles lining the floors of their cars. These bottles tend to be thrown away at gas stations. Oldfield adds that beverage container recycling often is neglected at work.

The DOC is using the $26 billion in unclaimed deposits as an incentive to inspire recycling in places Californians typically won't find recycling bins, such as at convenience stores, gas stations and small businesses. “Small businesses of 50 to 100 people might be paying to get their trash container picked up with thousands of bottles in it each year,” Oldfield says. “We can help them earn thousands of dollars by setting up a recycling program and marketing it to their employees. Employees could take bottles and cans to recycling centers themselves, or we could put them in touch with a local nonprofit group. Maybe the bottle recycling could even be a source of extra income for the building's janitorial team.”

Oldfield adds that if 1 billion water bottles are going into the trash in California each year, then the DOC can extrapolate that trashing these PET containers instead of recycling them indicates that there could be a recycling problem in other states, too.