Zero Waste Humboldt battles single-use plastic containers with Refill, Not Landfill

Zero Waste Humboldt's Refill Not Landfill group: Sierra Jenkins, Jeff Raimey, Cena Marino, Gretchen Ziegler, Emily ​Benvie, Kate McClain, Cameron Mull, Maureen Hart.

Zero Waste Humboldt

HUMBOLDT – Zero Waste Humboldt supporters and partners in the Refill Not Landfill Project gathered around the Wharfinger Building lobby new water bottle refill station to celebrate on the Friday before Earth Day. 

This is one of 10 water bottle refill stations that Zero Waste Humboldt (ZWH) awarded to northern Humboldt local governments and schools. ZWH’s Refill Not Landfill project aims to reduce the ever-increasing number of single use plastic water bottles in Humboldt County’s waste stream. 

ZWH is the only organization on the Redwood Coast that specializes solely on waste reduction solutions.

Zero Waste Humboldt has awarded four water stations to the City of Eureka Parks & Recreation Department, and one each to Fortuna, Arcata, Blue Lake and McKinleyville Community Services District Parks and Recreation Departments. Arcata High School and McKinleyville High School campuses have also been awarded stations. 

Each water station includes a counter to monitor use and the estimated number of single use water bottles prevented. ZWH’s network of northern Humboldt partners have installed the water bottle refill stations in their buildings and will report periodically on the use indicated by the water station counter. 

To date, the partners in the project report that their water bottle refill stations have saved a total of more than 25,000 single use plastic water bottles from Humboldt County’s waste.

The ZWH Refill Not Landfill project water stations and ongoing public education have been funded by Coast Central Credit Union, the Footprint Foundation, Mad River Rotary Club and the Strong Foundation.

“The Refill Not Landfill project has been a win-win on several fronts,” said ZWH President Sarai Lucarelli. “It’s a model for keeping single use plastics out of our waterways, beaches, street gutters, and landfill; it benefits public health and fitness; and is developing the public infrastructure necessary to increase convenience for the “bring your reusable bottle” habit.”

Cameron Mull, director of the City of Fortuna’s Parks and Recreation Program, pointed out that, “As old drinking fountains are replaced and new buildings are built, we must remember to integrate new water bottle refill stations.”

Blue Lake City Manager Amanda Mager emphasizes the importance for the water bottle refill stations to be accessible for children and for them to see their teachers, parents and other adults with the bring-your-own-water-bottle habit.

“We’re not going to be able to recycle our way out of the proliferation of single use plastics,” said ZWH Boardmember Maggie Gainer. 

Berkeley Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque, and Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, perfectly summarized the solutions for single use plastics in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed piece: “If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t immediately reach for a mop — you’d first turn off the tap. That’s what we need to do with single-use plastics.”

Gainer said, “The reusable bottle alternative is so much cheaper than buying water in plastic bottles. Now, we must make the reusable alternative more convenient with more water bottle refill stations, and convince local schools and parks and rec programs to stop selling water in single-use plastic water bottles!”

Public health

There is a popular misunderstanding that bottled water is better for your health than tap water. 

In fact, the water supply for several brands of bottled water is an urban tap. The quality of the public water supply, like our local Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District is highly regulated. U.S. EPA regulates public tap water. Bottled water has very little regulation. Many brands have found traces of phthalates, mold,microbes, arsenic, and other contaminants in bottled water. (Many sources, including 

A recent World Health Organization study reported that 93 percent of popular bottled water brands have tested the water to find plastic fibers inside the bottle.

Energy and resources

Among significant environmental concerns are the resources required to produce the plastic bottles and to transport filled bottles to consumers, including both energy and water. 

Producing the bottles for American consumption in 2006 required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation. Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxideIt took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water., 2007

Ineffectual recycling

The U.S. used about 50 billion plastic water bottles in 2017. However, the recycling rate has been 23 percent, with 38 billion plastic water bottles wasted. ( One million single-use plastic water bottles are purchased per minute. 23 percent at best, are recycled. 

One million single use plastic water bottles are purchased per minute. 23 percent at best, are recycled.

Extreme consumer costs

Bottled water is more expensive than gasoline and costs 2,000 times more than tap water—switching can save a lot of money! 

Americans purchase about 50 billion water bottles per year, averaging about 13 bottles per month for every person in the U.S.! That means by using a reusable water bottle, you could save an average of 156 plastic bottles annually.

Consumers know that plastic water bottles are bad. A 2018 Mintel Water Insights study found that 29 percent of those who purchase and drink bottled water say that drinking it is bad for the environment, and one in four people have stopped purchasing bottled water because it is plastic. 

Environmental harm

The Northcoast Environmental Center found that during 2018’s Coastal Cleanup Day, 252 single use plastic water bottles and 162 bottle caps were found on Humboldt’s beaches. 

The extreme damage to the world’s oceans, waterways, fish, other wildlife, and air quality from burning plastic has been well documented. Humboldt’s regular beach clean ps are one way to assess the damage in Humboldt.

To learn more about prevention strategies for single use plastics, email [email protected].




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