NR 2003-13
May 29, 2003

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

New Report Cites Potential Crisis
 as Billions of Water Bottles Tossed In Trash

SACRAMENTO, CA – An on-the-go society combined with masses of health conscious consumers has turned the single serve bottle of water into a national icon. Now, according to a report released today by the California Department of Conservation, billions of these empty “icons” are causing serious environmental problems.

According to the report, more than 1 billion water bottles are winding up in the trash in California each year. That translates into nearly 3 million empty water bottles going to the trash EVERY day and an estimated $26 million in unclaimed California Refund Value (CRV) deposits annually. If recycled, the raw materials from those bottles could be used to make 74 million square feet of carpet, 74 million extra large T-shirts or 16 million sweaters, among other things.

Instead, they are swallowing landfill space, increasing air pollution and destroying the ozone layer.

“The sight of a water bottle in someone's hand has become as common as a cell phone,” said Darryl Young, Director of the California Department of Conservation. “In California, one is usually in the right, and the other is in the left. What people don’t realize is that these water bottles are recyclable and have detrimental environmental impacts if thrown in the trash”

With their popularity increasing and summer right around the corner, single serve water bottles are poised to cause even greater environmental concerns if recycling rates go unchanged. According to the report, only 16 percent of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles sold in California are being recycled. At that rate, the amount of water bottles thrown in the trash ten years from now would be enough to create a two lane, six-inch deep highway that stretches the entire coast of California.

The bottles also present significant air pollution concerns as many are incinerated with regular trash. Anyone who has seen a plastic bottle melt knows of the toxic smoke and fumes it can create. These fumes not only pose health risks, they create “green house gases” that attack the ozone layer.

“What’s most discouraging is that these empty water bottles can be recycled and used for so many things,” continues Young. “Recycled PET water bottles can be used as raw material to make products like sweaters, carpet, t-shirts, and even products for the home.

Young feels the growing problem could be solved with a small amount of help from consumers. “The real challenge is making people aware that their water bottles are recyclable and convincing them to hold onto them until they can be recycled – especially when it isn’t always convenient. In the end, the small extra effort could help avert a big environmental problem.”

Young encourages consumers to ask for recycling. “If your local gas station or convenience mart doesn’t offer a recycling bin, ask them to put one in. If there’s not a recycling program at work, start one up. Most important, hold on to that container until you can recycle it.” Consumers can call 1-800-RECYCLE (California only) or visit to learn about the nearest recycling center or how to start a recycling program at work.

California is one of 10 states with a beverage container-recycling program based on a minimum deposit or value placed on beverage containers. The Department of Conservation administers the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, which became law in 1986. The primary goal of the act is to achieve and maintain high recycling rates for each beverage container type included in the program.

Consumers pay CRV (California Refund Value) when they purchase beverages from a retailer. The deposits are refunded to consumers when empty containers are redeemed through local recycling centers. CRV is also refunded to those who operate curbside programs or pick up recyclables from bins located in public venues such as parks, beaches and sporting events.

In addition to promotion of the state's beverage container recycling program, the Department of Conservation administers programs to safeguard agricultural and open-space land; regulates oil, gas and geothermal wells in the state; studies and maps earthquakes, landslides and mineral resources; and ensures reclamation of land used for mining.