What Litter Says about America
Especially telling is a water bottle that is marketed as eco-friendly.
Like an archeological dig, the litter that my wife and I pick up on our daily five-mile walk says a lot about American society.
The daily debris comes from all socioeconomic classes. Receipts found among some of the items show that they were bought miles away in impoverished parts of town. Other litter comes from a nearby resort, where guests pay a few hundred dollars a night and then throw stuff out of the window of their luxury car upon departure.
We’ve walked in every region of the United States, in both urban and rural areas. Judging by the amount of litter and trash along roadsides, public places, and even hiking trails and national parks across the country, civic-mindedness, civic pride, and manners are in short supply in America.
On our daily walks, we’ve picked up fast-food debris, beer cans, and bottles, liquor bottles, water bottles, shards of glass, Styrofoam cups, face masks, latex gloves, cigarette packs, vaping devices, nitrous oxide cartridges, drug paraphernalia, plastic bags, Swiffer cleaning cloths, cardboard boxes, Styrofoam peanuts and other packing material, car parts from accidents, construction materials blown out of the beds of pickup trucks, and even a leather briefcase full of vomit.
On two occasions, we found a wallet that contained a driver’s license, credit cards, and cash. Each time, we promptly mailed the wallet to the owner, who never thanked us.
The volume of litter is greatest the day after Memorial Day and Independence Day. It’s as if Americans show their patriotism by trashing America.
The most telling and ironic piece of litter that we’ve ever picked up was a white and blue designer water bottle, or carton, with the brand name of “Just Water.” The particular bottle was found next to plastic carry-out food containers, which indicated that the items had been discarded together.
Marketed as eco-friendly, Just Water bottles are plastered with feel-good homilies about sustainability and greenness. Let’s look at the wording on the bottles before returning to the commentary.
One side of the square bottles says:
100% Spring Water
+ naturally alkaline
+ plant-based carton
+ sustainably sourced
Another side says:
YOU JUST DID A GOOD THING.
This carton is made almost entirely from plants, which pull CO₂ from the air (instead of adding more). And because the premium we pay for our water goes directly into improving local water infrastructure, we’re actually helping the small American city we source from.
One carton might not save the world, but it’s a start.
AND NICE MOVE.
A third side says:
A system that’s out to change everything.
We partner with a small city [Glens Falls] in upstate NY
to buy their excess spring water at 6X the municipal water rate.
which puts more $$$ into their local economy.
Then we package it up in a carton made from 54% paper
and 34% plant-based plastic, totaling 88% renewable content,
which means up to 74% less carbon emissions vs. similarly sized plastic bottles.
So if you’re going to buy packaged water, this one’s better for everyone.
A fourth side gives the following packaging facts, among other information:
Plant-Based Plastic 34.6%
PE [polyethylene] Plastic 8.1%
None of the information says how much energy was used to pump the water, to fill the bottles, to warehouse the bottles, and to ship the bottles across the country from Glens Falls, New York, to Tucson, Arizona, where I found the bottle in question. Nor does it mention that paper production is one of the most energy-intensive and environmentally harmful industries.
Also unsaid is how Just Water compares to municipal water in price, purity, and environmental impact. No doubt, the city water that I drink out of reusable, non-BPA glasses and hiking bottles—after running the water through filters that remove chlorine and other substances—comes out way ahead in these measures.
In any event, Glens Falls can better afford bottled water than Tucson. The New York town has a poverty rate of 14.7%, which is seven percentage points lower than the poverty rate in the City of Tucson. One reason for the disparity is that Glens Falls is 89.6% non-Hispanic white, versus only 43.3% for the City of Tucson. When Tucsonans buy Just Water, they are sending money to New York.
It also should be noted that spring water isn’t necessarily good water. As a case in point, my father-in-law lived in a bucolic hamlet in the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Penn., not far from the New York border. The hamlet’s unofficial water system was connected to a spring. Sounds good, unless one happened to know that the spring is in the middle of old oil fields and near a former charcoal/chemical plant. Because the water had a strange-looking sheen to it, I didn’t drink it and reluctantly showered with it.
Moreover, if left untreated, spring water can contain lead and arsenic, since these elements occur naturally in the ground.
The discarded bottle of Just Water is a perfect illustration of how Americans fall for green marketing but are oblivious to the trashing of America.