The residents of Flint, Michigan continue to suffer as a result of lead contamination in the city’s water supply. Thousands of individuals — from celebrities to members of the National Guard — have banded together to support the town and find ways to deal with the crisis.
Among the donations from celebrities, pop star Cher has pledged to send over 180,000 bottles of Icelandic Glacial water to the city to ensure residents have clean, safe water to drink. The water will be distributed to the city’s 100,000 residents with the majority of the bottles being given to low-income families.
According to the company website, Icelandic Glacial is a “super-premium natural spring water” derived from the Ölfus Spring in Iceland. The company also pledged to double Cher’s donation to support low-income residents of Flint, who are suffering the most from the disaster. Jan Olafsson, co-founder and chairman of Icelandic Glacial said in a press release, “We are humbled and honored to help the people of Flint get through this crisis. Together with Cher, we also hope to raise awareness to help get the families of Flint the assistance they need during this difficult time.”
While delivering clean water to Flint residents is of the utmost importance during this crisis, the hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles pouring into Flint have the potential to create another disaster of even greater proportions. According to an article published in 2012 by the Earth Institute of Columbia University:
“Today Americans discard about 33.6 million tons of plastic each year, but only 6.5 percent of it is recycled and 7.7 percent is combusted in waste-to-energy facilities, which create electricity or heat from garbage. The rest ends up in landfills where it may take up to 1,000 years to decompose, and potentially leak pollutants into the soil and water. It’s estimated that there are also 100 millions tons of plastic debris floating around in the oceans threatening the health and safety of marine life.”
Cher has promised that the plastic bottles delivered to Flint will be recycled after their use. However, it will be nearly impossible to control what the residents of Flint choose to do with those plastic bottles once they are empty. Many will likely throw the bottles away and they will end up in landfills, which could have negative consequences for the city for decades to come.
Cher is not the only person donating plastic water bottles. Millions are being donated to the town. If recycling efforts are not put in place, the impact of all this plastic on the environment could be devastating. It is estimated that each of the 100,000 residents of Flint will use over 10 standard plastic water bottles per day, which means that in just one day, the city could use one million bottles of water.
The state of emergency in Flint is expected to last several months, and as yet, it is unknown how long it will take the city to replace all the corroded lead pipes in its system. In the meantime, within just a few months, several million plastic bottles will accumulate.
Although Flint does have a few plastic recycling centers, it is unlikely these centers will be able to handle the increase in supply during the crisis. Consequently, Flint will need to send much of its extra plastic to other towns to be recycled, which will put further financial strain on the beleaguered town. To avoid another disaster, it’s imperative we find a more sustainable solution to the water crisis in Flint. Instead of donating plastic water bottles, a better choice is distributing water filters.
—The Alternative Daily