Art installation highlights plastic bottle use

A public art installation in Hermosa Beach depicts a pie chart and two dolphins. It’s made up of 839 bottles, cans and cartons — that’s how many are annually used by the average American. (Photo by Caleigh Wells/LAist)

CULVER CITY, California – Ever wonder how many recyclable bottles and cans you consume every year, or what it might look like if you tossed them all into one big pile?

The Container Recycling Institute (CRI), based in Culver City, California, took the latest statistics on how many beverages people buy in plastic bottles, aluminum cans and paper cartons and turned it all into a real-world infographic on Hermosa Beach in California. The numbers are based on data they regularly collect. Their last comprehensive report was in 2013, Bottled Up.

The result, which took five hours to build, was this chart in the sand that looks like two dolphins.

The artwork is made up of 839 containers. According to CRI that’s how many are used each year by the average American.

The numbers depicted represent a grim reality: only 32 percent of these containers are recycled on average, which means 68 percent go to waste.

CRI did the same thing last year, and the numbers are only getting worse. In 2017, the organization reported a recycling rate of 37 percent.

The percentage that are recycled has fallen consistently over the past 25 years, peaking at more than half in 1992 and falling to 32 percent now, according to CRI president Susan Collins.

Why is all this of concern? A lot of plastics end up in the ocean.

We dump 8 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean every year, enough to equal a third the weight of all the fish in the sea in just a decade, according to CRI, which cited the Ocean Conservancy.

If there’s any consolation, it could be this: those of you in California are actually really good at recycling compared to other states. That’s thanks at least in part to the state’s long-standing recycling program that uses the California Redemption Value, or CRV, as a public incentive. That’s the program that allows Californians to get 5 to 10 cents back when recycling a container.

At least nine other states have similar container deposit laws, sometimes called “bottle bills,” on the books. Collins calls these laws “the rockstars of recycling.” Those states include Hawaii, Oregon, California, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The states that have those laws often track the number of beverage containers that are recycled.