CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Millions of empty plastic water bottles are piling up in homes and businesses in Kanawha County and the surrounding area, where about 300,000 people were left without clean water following last Thursday's chemical leak into the Elk River.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency alone had delivered 2 million liters of water -- 4 million half-liter bottles -- to a staging area in Charleston by Sunday. The water came from the agency's distribution centers in Frederick and Cumberland, Md. Other relief agencies, organizations and individuals added thousands of additional bottles.
While those left without water for drinking, bathing and washing were happy to receive the bottles, recycling officials and individuals who support the idea of reusing the growing mountain of plastic are making an effort to keep the bottles out of area landfills and illegal open dumps.
"I hope everybody recycles," said George Hunyadi, head of West Virginia Recycling Services, the company that operates the Slack Street recycling operation formerly managed by the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority. "If you make a conscious effort to recycle, we will help turn every one of your bottles into something useful."
Hunyadi's organization has several 30-cubic-yard containers available to receive recycled bottles 24 hours a day at its Slack Street headquarters.
"We ship them out in 40,000-pound truckloads," he said. "It takes a lot of bottles to make a truckload, but we're getting there a little faster than usual now."
According to the International Bottled Water Association, 38.6 percent of used plastic water bottles are now being recycled in the United States.
"It's such a waste," said Molly Erlandson, of Charleston, as she prepared to deposit several bags of empty water bottles in a West Virginia Recycling Services container. "You just know that vast amounts of these bottles are going to be tossed, especially in places with no curbside recycling."
"With 800,000 bottles of water a day coming into the area, we could be facing some horrid landfill space issues," said Emily Wrenn Harrell, 15, of Charleston, a member of Boys Scouts of America-affiliated Venture Crew 68, based at Cross Lanes United Methodist Church.