Next Challenge for Flint: Enormous Piles of Empty Water Bottles

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Federal State Of Emergency Declared In Flint, Michigan Over Contaminated Water Supply
That's a lot of plastic.Photo: Sarah Rice/2016 Getty Images

On Monday, Diddy and Mark Wahlberg sent 1 million bottles of water to Flint, Michigan, where the municipal water supply has been declared unsafe. Other celebrities, nonprofits, and corporations have sent hundreds of thousands more. That’s a lot of bottles — and, now, a lot of plastic trash.

So a city that was already struggling to keep its head above (lead-contaminated) water now has a new problem. Flint has only three landfills and a two-year-old, voluntary recycling program in which few residents participate. A private waste-hauling company that donated four huge recycling bins to Flint told NBC News that each can fill up with 680 pounds of water bottles in 24 hours. To put that in perspective, the average American throws out 185 pounds of plastic a year. (Curbside recycling, while theoretically a good thing, is also more of a mirage than many people realize, even under the best of conditions; one-third of “recycled” bottles of water end up in landfills. And whether they’re recycled or not, all of that extra material still has to be picked up.)

Flint native Michael Moore took to his website on Wednesday to tell philanthropists to lay off the shipments of Poland Spring, urging instead a much more comprehensive emergency measure: that each resident immediately receive a pair of 55-gallon drums, to be refilled daily with trucked-in water until the pipes are fixed. He points out that the cases of bottled water being shipped to Flint constitute a literal drop in the bucket: “100,000 bottles of water is enough for just one bottle per person – in other words, just enough to cover brushing one’s teeth for one day,” Moore wrote. “You would have to send 200 bottles a day, per person, to cover what the average American (we are Americans in Flint) needs.”

Senate Democrats in Washington introduced legislation on Wednesday that calls for $400 million to replace lead pipes, and is asking the state of Michigan to match that number. Also in the proposed legislation: $28 million for emergency measures, including more bottled water.

Meanwhile, Michigan governor Rick Snyder was heckled out of a bar on Thursday night in downtown Ann Arbor. One resident shouted: “How was your water?!” Michael Moore has called for Snyder’s arrest.