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The bottled water blues

Really interesting cover story from the Press about the bottled water industry and its effects. Some of it, like the relative cost per gallon compared to gasoline, has been covered before, but there was quite a bit that was new to me, and the inclusion of an analysis of Houston’s tap water was fascinating. Lots in there to think about, and definitely worth your time to read if you haven’t already.

One thing to comment on, since this has become a hot topic lately:

Last year Americans tossed over 22 billion plastic water bottles into the trash. It is estimated that only 15 to 20 percent of these get recycled — and probably even less here in Houston. According to the trade magazine Waste News, Houston residents are the worst in the country, recycling only 2.6 percent of their waste.

“I have seen those newspaper articles talking about the sheer amount of plastic that is thrown away from water bottles, and that is a staggering number,” says Karl Pepple, director of environmental programming for the city. “You know, we have more pressing issues right now, looking at our air quality. Bottled water hasn’t boiled to the top yet. It’s something that we haven’t spent a lot of time looking at.”

Marina Joseph, the city’s Solid Waste Management spokeswoman, says that unless people recycle their water bottles, they get tossed into the landfill, which is not where the city wants them.

Easier said than done. Almost all of the restaurateurs that the Press spoke with said they do not recycle water bottles.

“We do consider ourselves a green company,” says Kevin Haagenson, general manager at Voice, located inside Hotel Icon, “but unfortunately there still is the bottle that’s wasted at the end. We are throwing them away right now…”

[Heath] Lagrone at *17 says the same thing.

“We do try to do our part,” he says, “[but] I don’t really pay a lot of attention to it.”

[Jason] Kerr says that when he worked under [chef Monica] Pope, recycling “eventually got to the point where it was so much work.” Plus, he says, “there’s no money in it.”

I wouldn’t expect many restaurants to achieve the standard greenness that Monica Pope sets, but getting them to separate out plastic bottles, which ought to include things other than water bottles, and steel or aluminum cans shouldn’t be that big a deal. The city doesn’t want these things in its landfill, and even with the restaurants paying for their own waste disposal, it’s still costing the city money for those items to be in the landfill. Given that, it’s got to make sense to provide some kind of financial incentive – a tax credit or rebate or something – to get them to do this. Or maybe offer the incentive to the waste management companies, since you’ll need them to do the pickup anyway, if they’ll haul the stuff to a city recycling center. I’ve no doubt there are plenty of details to work through, I’m just saying I think this is doable and desirable. The fact that there are other pressing issues doesn’t mean some thought can’t be given to this.

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One Comment

  1. Once again touting Gavin Newsom’s horn but SF has the best program for this, seriously, and it works. It works so well, he’s consulted cities internationally. Closer to home, Austin is mimicking it, too.