In the minute it took you to click on this post and read this sentence, humans around the globe bought a million plastic water bottles. In the US alone, 60 million single-use water bottles are thrown out every day. And 91% of those bottles are not recycled, despite the fact that they can take more than 400 years to decompose, and while doing so they break down into smaller and smaller pieces that make their way into our water and our soil. Humanity’s obsession with plastics doesn’t show any sign of slowing, and it can be discouraging to imagine the enormous amounts of plastic waste piling up in landfills or being tossed into the ocean. But while we continue to fight for legislation that will address the biggest offenders in terms of plastic pollution–industries that generate huge amounts of plastic waste like packaging and fishing nets–there are steps we as individuals can take to minimize our personal impact.
Refill Not Landfill is a community project spearheaded by Whitefish resident Kelly Ordway, in partnership with Climate Smart Glacier Country. Originally modeled on an initiative in Cambodia that aimed to eliminate plastic water bottle use by tourists, Ordway began creating a list of local businesses that have water bottle filling stations open to the public. A main goal of the campaign is simply education–tourists and locals alike might not be aware that there are currently more than 20 businesses that offer a convenient place to refill your water bottle when you’re out and about on a hot summer day. Businesses like Montana Coffee Traders, Nelson’s Ace Hardware, and Bonsai Brewing, as well as municipal buildings like City Hall and the library, are all committed to providing refill stations for people choosing reusable water bottles. Consult the list above or click this link to see where you can quench your thirst in the Flathead this summer.
Many people cite discomfort with municipal water quality as their reason for drinking from plastic water bottles, and while there are a few cases like the crisis in Flint, Michigan where bottled water is the only option, this is completely untrue for the vast majority of Americans. Having constant access to safe, clean water from your kitchen tap is an enormous privilege and a huge public health triumph, something we here in the US should never take for granted. And if that weren’t convincing enough, the FDA standards for bottled water are far less stringent than those set by the EPA for tap water, meaning bottled water can be contaminated with chemicals and plastic leachates that would never appear in municipal water. If you’re already on board with drinking from a reusable water bottle, congratulations on attempting to decrease the amount of plastic you produce each day (in the US, almost a pound of plastic is produced per person per day, a statistic that becomes even more worrying when you consider how little the plastic packaging in your Amazon box typically weighs). It can sometimes be disheartening to consider pollution solutions based on individual actions rather than large changes to our consumer habits and our economy–when it’s predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, perhaps it doesn’t make much sense to focus on the 0.1% of that plastic that comes from drinking straws instead of the 50% that comes from discarded fishing equipment. But there is still a place for individuals to make a difference in their communities, and drawing attention to plastic water bottle use in the Flathead through the Refill Not Landfill campaign can hopefully start conversations about how and why we use plastic in Montana, and what we can do next to create an even bigger impact.
If you’re interested in learning more, this report on plastic pollution from Our World in Data and this report, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics,” from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation can be good places to start. You can also read about the Refill Not Landfill project in this NBC Montana article.