Need to Know

Plastic Waste and the Flint, Mich., Water Crisis

An Earther report examines how the water crisis almost turned into a plastic bottle crisis for the city of Flint.

Back in December 2015, the city of Flint, Mich., declared a state of emergency from lead-filled, tainted drinking and bathing water. Since then, Flint has been battling with contaminated water and plastic water bottle recycling issues.

A study published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling states that the city accumulated up to 100 million plastic water bottles, according to an Earther report. Authors of the study ended up interviewing officials, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan National Guard and the Genesee County Metropolitan Planning, to figure out how much waste the water crisis generated and how the city and state responded.

According to Earther, it seems public-private partnerships and public communication were integral to cleaning up this plastic waste.

Earther has more details:

If the water pouring out your sink is full of lead, you might reasonably turn to bottled water. That’s exactly what happened in Flint, Michigan, after the city switched its drinking water source and lead began leaching into everyone’s taps. In the first three weeks after the state declared the situation an emergency in January 2016, the city accumulated up to 100 million plastic bottles, according to a new study shared online Tuesday.

That amount of plastic waste should’ve overwhelmed the city of nearly 100,000's waste management infrastructure. As the study authors note, however, that never happened.

The study, published in Resources, Conservation, and Recycling, examined how city officials were forced to revise their waste management practices on the fly. They didn’t have a plan in place prior to the water crisis, but they had to come up with one—and quickly!—to deal with the onslaught of trash that resulted. The study’s findings can help other cities around the U.S. prepare for water outages of their own.

Read the full article here.

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