Dewitt Avenue resident in Jackson talks about the city water crisis
Larry Kelly of Jackson, Miss., talks about the water crisis and the importance of everyone doing their part.
Barbara Gauntt, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
As Jackson emerges from the depths of a failed water system that caused loss of pressure and made water unusable even for bathing, another crisis is beginning to unwind — one that could have a serious impact on the city and state for generations.
A state-issued boiled-water notice on July 29 heralded yet another failure of Jackson’s water system. Soon after the latest water crisis began, the city began distributing bottled water to residents.
The city has distributed hundreds of thousands of water bottles in the last six weeks. Churches, businesses, and other groups have rallied to bring truckloads of water to the capital city to make sure Jacksonians had clean water.
At the end of August, Gov. Tate Reeves implemented a state of emergency and began taking action. In the state’s first week of aid, it distributed about 5 million bottles, Reeves said Monday.
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While water is vital to sustaining life, at what cost to the environment is the disposal of millions of plastic bottles making their way to landfills or being dumped in rivers and streams?
It takes about 450 years or longer for plastic bottles to break down, according to a Harvard sustainability study it created to reduce plastic waste on campus. Not only that, but the manufacture and disposal of plastics contribute to climate change.
“After all, nearly a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions stem from how we make, consume and dispose of things,” the study says.
In addition to pollutants, plastic waste can have a negative impact on the aesthetics of an area through littering and decrease business productivity. For example, plastic bottles in the ocean can make their way into fishing nets, lowering the number of fish per haul, according to a study published on the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information.
It remains unclear how toxins from plastics affect organisms as they make their way up the food chain, the study says. Although scientists believe humans are negatively impacted, more research is needed to determine the full extent.
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The city of Jackson ended its curbside recycling program in August 2019, saying the lack of interest and cost to the city made it an impractical endeavor.
The city was spending about $1.15 million a year — roughly $96,000 a month — for curbside pickup. Less than a third of the Jackson community participated in the program, the Clarion Ledger reported in an earlier story. In addition, the demand for recycled plastics had diminished in the months leading up to the city’s decision.
Residents were referred to private recycling companies if they wanted to continue curbside service.
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Environmentality Recycling Solutions and Allen’s Recycling are among the private companies that pick up recyclables. Tri-Miss Recycling has dropoff points for its customers but does not offer curbside pickup, nor does it accept plastics.
Derek Augustus, owner of Environmentality Recycling Solutions, said his company began operating in Jackson a couple years before the city eliminated curbside recycling. The company specializes in smaller-volume residential and commercial recycling.
“We are definitely trying to pick up a lot of the influx that’s happening now,” he said of the enormous amount of empty bottles piling up. “We’ve had a few people call about it, but we’re just the processor.”
Augustus said Environmentality is working with Keep Jackson Beautiful to collect empty bottles at some water distribution sites.
“We’re collecting bottles at the water distribution sites so people can bring bottles back as they’re picking more up,” he said.
Keelan Sanders, executive director of Keep Jackson Beautiful, said the group already was working with the city and Jackson Public School District on exploring ways to bring back some sort of recycling program.
“The water crisis has basically expedited what we’re trying to do, because we saw the need, especially with all the water bottles we are being inundated with now,” he said.
Sanders said he has heard from residents throughout the city who have been saving the empty bottles until they could find a way to recycle them.
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There are several locations in Jackson already collecting the empties, primarily at the major water distribution sites, he said. In addition, there will be other dropoff sites available next week. To find a dropoff site, Sanders said, residents can download the Replenysh app and use its location-based service.
“Unfortunately with plastic, it does not break down, so we definitely don’t want all those millions of bottles going to the landfill,” Sanders said.
Sanders said recycling the bottles will help save not only space in the landfill, but it also puts fewer contaminants in the soil, water and air. Contaminants can remain in the soil for over 100 years. Some landfills burn trash to make more space, which would put toxic chemicals in the atmosphere.
“We want to be conscientious that we’re not adding additional problems, not only for us but for our children and our children’s children,” Sanders said. “All of these things can be avoided simply by recycling.”
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Empty bottle dropoff locations in Jackson
Note: Bottles need to be clear of debris and should be compacted. Caps can be recycled but must be on the bottles.
- Mississippi Urban League, 2548 Livingston Road
- Metrocenter Mall, 3645 U.S. 80
- Mississippi State Fairgrounds, 1207 Mississippi St.
- Oak Forest Community Center, 2827 Oak Forest Drive
- Smith-Wills Stadium, 1200 Lakeland Drive
- Sykes Community Center, 520 Sykes Road
- The City Plaza, 2460 Terry Road
- Other sites will be added in the coming weeks, check the Replenysh app for an updated list
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