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Report on Adopt-A-Highway Litter Pickup Saturday, August 17

Tis the season of the ... plastic water bottle!

Mark your calendar: Saturday, September 14, 2019 is the next Adopt-A-Highway Litter Pickup on Highway 280.

JUST THE FACTS: Date: Saturday, August 17, 2019. Location: Highway 280 NB between Meridian Avenue and Saratoga Avenue. Time: Three hours – 9:15 am -12:15 pm Participants: 5 full-time volunteers. Sabine and I were joined by veteran volunteers Richard, Diana, Pam, and Crista. Two of them could only work part of the time, so I’m counting them as one full-time person. What we collected: 22 total bags, 2 of which were full of recyclable aluminum cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles. See details below. Any cash? 23 cents. Crista found two nickels, Sabine found one nickle, and Pam found 8 cents. Our total, since I started keeping track in 2005? $2,407.22!

Oddities along with the  trash (

    ▸    Part of a roll of toilet paper.     ▸    11 gloves (only two pairs, the rest solos).     ▸    A nice looking vase that, unfortunately, was chipped.     ▸    Two packages of teething biscuits (crushed almost to powder).     ▸    A part of athletic slippers, the kind that basketball player put on after practice.     ▸    An appalling amount of styrofoam, both large sheets and fist-sized chunks of it.     ▸    A sweet little Lamb Chop toy for a child. It was really filthy, but cleaned up beautifully.     ▸    A soccer ball (non-professional), still fully inflated. We gave it to the family with children that lives across the street.     ▸    A toasted and buttered English muffin. Sabine and I found one half, and Crista found the other half about 75 yards away on the same on-ramp.     ▸    Two large grout sponges. We find them frequently on the freeway, in various degrees of wear. Our favorite concrete-and-pavers guy can use them.     ▸    A beer can with an old-fashioned pull-tab. Those pull-tabs were banned in the late 1970s, which makes me wonder how long that can had been waiting.

THANKS, SABINE Sabine picked up the tab for lunch this month. Yes, we’re married, and it sort of like taking the money out of a different pocket in the same pair of pants, but it was a nice gesture anyway.

TIS THE SEASON OF THE ... PLASTIC WATER BOTTLE I really dread the summer months for a very specific reason: the number of water bottles we find increases, almost doubles. About 10% of what we pick up is recyclable plastic, aluminum and glass containers. You may have noticed above that we filled 22 Adopt-A-Highway bags, and two of them were full of recyclables – about 10%. I sort out the contents of those bags and every couple of months I load up my car and take the lot to one of the local recycling centers.

The plastic bottles (water, soda, juice, etc.) usually account for 70-75% of the total, with soda bottles coming in close behind the single-use water bottles. In the summer, however, water consumption goes waaay up. This time half of what we picked up were single-use water bottles – 196 of them. I know because I counted them as I sorted. They filled one entire bag and, in addition, there were five of the larger plastic water bottles. There were a total of 32 plastic soda and juice bottles. Keep in mind that we clean one side of about 2 miles of highway, the northbound side between Meridian and Saratoga. Now multiply that times the hundreds of miles of highway just in this area. Multiply again times the tens of thousands of miles in the United States. Does that make your stomach churn?

I am old enough to remember a time before water came in plastic bottles – pre-1980. We drank water from faucets, drinking fountains, and hoses. We filled our glasses from a pitcher on the table. We carried water in a thermos or canteen when we went hiking or on a picnic.

Now people purchase and consume BILLIONS of gallons of water every single year in plastic bottles. I see people in the Safeway and Walgreens and CVS and Target parking lots with flats of water in plastic bottles. I go into an office and see a plastic water bottle sitting on nearly every desktop. I go to events at my wife’s school and see plastic water bottles – many of them with water in them – lying on the grass, perched on ledges, and in the garbage cans. And of course we pick up hundreds of them every year on the highway.

I was on a college campus recently. They had water bottle filling stations in several places. These stations are designed so that residents can fill their reusable water bottles with chilled, filtered water. The one I saw (and Sabine says they have the same model at the high school where she teaches) has a counter that displays a number representing how many single-use plastic water bottles are NOT used by filling a reusable bottle instead (I’m told the counter gets re-set each time the filter is changed). On one of displays, I read over 65,300. That made me smile! Yes, it’s a minuscule number compared the total number of water bottles manufactured and sold, but it’s a small step in the right direction. I am hopeful that, before I die, the plastic water bottle will be a thing of the past and a generation of young people will mock the generation that decided it was a good idea to sell drinking water in plastic bottles.

Which brings me to my question for you: if you are reading this and YOU regularly purchase and drink water from single-use plastic water bottles, please email me and tell me why.

REMINDER: THE NEXT TRASH PICKUP WILL BE SATURDAY, September 14, 2019. Future dates:October 19 and November 9 (yes, that’s earlier than usual but I have out-of-town commitments the following two Saturdays.

Feel free to pass these reports along to friends and invite them to join the clean-up brigade next month!  We are always looking for new volunteers.



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