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SAN FRANCISCO -- Health-conscious Californians guzzle more than 1 billion water bottles a year, tossing nearly 3 million plastic bottles into the trash each day.
The deluge is becoming a crisis for landfills, the California Department of Conservation said in a newly released report.
"The sight of a water bottle in someone's hand has become as common as a cell phone,' department Director Darryl Young said in releasing the report. "In California, one is usually in the right, and the other is in the left.'
As summer approaches, the department urged consumers to not only recycle their bottles, but to lobby convenience stores and gas stations, which sell the majority of bottled water in California, to set up recycling bins.
California is one of 10 states with a recycling program that requires consumers to pay a deposit on beverage containers. Nationwide, consumption of bottled water is soon expected to surpass any other alcoholic or nonalcoholic drink except for carbonated soft drinks, and perhaps overtake even soft drinks by decade's end, projects the Beverage Marketing Corp. Americans consume nearly 20 gallons a year, up from 13 gallons in 1996, and that will likely near 25 gallons a year by 2005.
Californians are passing up $26 million in unclaimed deposits on the water bottles, the department estimated. If all those plastic bottles were recycled, it projected the raw materials would be enough for 74 million square feet of carpet, 74 million extra-large T-shirts or 16 million sweaters all products that actually can be made with the used plastic, according to an Associated Press report.
Just 16 percent of the bottles sold in California are being recycled. If it doesn't improve, the department projects the number of water bottles discarded over the next 10 years would be enough to stretch the 1,100-mile length of California's coast, 6 inches deep and as wide as a two-lane highway. Plastic in landfills lasts "forever," said department spokesman Mark Oldfield. "It does not go away unless it's incinerated, which creates different issues' by releasing toxic fumes that help create gases that harm the ozone layer.