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Empty bottles targeted for recycling

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.

"Part of the reason for being a part of a Venture crew is to find ways to resolve problems in your community, Harrell said, so she came up with the idea of establishing a plastic water bottle recycling drop-off site in Cross Lanes.

"I thought having it in a community that has no recycling program, and locating it at the church where we meet, would be a good idea, so I made a few calls and got things started," she said.

By early Monday afternoon, Harrell and fellow members of her Venture crew had collected and crushed several thousand empty water bottles. The plastic containers will be taken to the West Virginia Recycling Services to begin their journey into being converted into new plastic, fibers for clothing, paint, car seat covers and other items.

"With three kids and dogs, we go through a lot of bottles," said Debbie Pauley, of Cross Lanes, who dropped off six bags of empty water containers at the Cross Lanes church.

Pauley said she learned about the Cross Lanes drop-off point while picking up new cases of water from a distribution center at Cross Lanes Volunteer Fire Department.

"I was happy to learn that someone was doing something to recycle these bottles," she said." I'm going to tell everybody I know they can come here to recycle."

"After we're gone and back in school, we're hoping to keep this collection bin open, and maybe set up some other bins at water distribution sites," Harrell said.

Also on Monday, officials at Charleston Town Center Mall challenged the mall's 52 teen volunteers -- members of the mall's Teen Board for high school students and Junior Board for middle school students -- to collect as many empty water bottles as possible by Jan. 19. Members of the winning board will receive a pizza party courtesy of the mall.

"This is certainly an appropriate time to remind our teens as well as the public of the importance of recycling," said Lisa McCracken, Town Center's marketing director.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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