Friday, March 27, 2020

Pandemic Hurricane Prep: Get Started Now

Serious advice for anyone living in places where hurricanes and similar natural disasters are a possible threat during certain parts of the year: start washing and saving the plastic bottles (caps included) containing soda, juice, iced tea, Kool-aid and similar non-dairy beverages, even if you're usually wont to throw these bottles out with the garbage or recycling. I say this based on concern that, if supply chains and business overall remains wonky when hurricane season starts in June, buying the recommended 14-day supply of bottled water will be a HELL of a lot harder than it already is under those conditions.

Do not, however, save and re-use plastic milk jugs or any other containers that once held dairy drinks (which includes a lot of coffee beverages); no matter how many times you wash and sterilize it, you can never be entirely certain you got rid of ALL traces of milk proteins, which make microbes grow like crazy.

I already have a large collection of one-liter and one-gallon bottles (which originally held Jeff's preferred brands of club soda and unsweetened iced tea). If I had a big house and basement with lots of storage capacity, I'd just buy pallets of bottled water and be done with it; however, I live in an apartment which simply does not have the storage space (or strong-enough shelving) to hold 48 gallons of water at approximately one cubic foot and eight 1/3 pounds per gallon. So instead, I keep only a 4-day supply of pre-bottled water on hand, plus enough clean plastic bottles to hold another 11 or 12 day's worth. Here's a list of tricks I've learned over the years:

1. If you don't have enough shelf or floor storage space to easily hold all those bulky (though lightweight) bottles, you can put them in large unused garbage or lawn bags and hang them from the ceiling of a storage closet or some other out-of-the-way space. Weight is not an issue with all those empty plastic bottles; only actual volume of space is an issue.

2. Easiest way to wash and sterilize bottles (assuming clear transparent plastic): rinse out each bottle, then give it a squirt of liquid dish soap, add hot tap water full blast until the top of the soap suds start coming out the mouth of the bottle. Then cap the bottle and give it a good shake several times, enough for the soapsuds to get a chance to go against all interior surfaces.

3. The difficult/annoying part of washing bottles is actually the rinsing, and making sure not a TRACE of soap remains in any of them. The least-annoying method, I've discovered, is: dump all the hot soapy water out, then fill it with cold tap water slowly enough that the traces of remaining soap are NOT agitated into suds. Do this until the water overflows the bottle, then dump everything out. Depending on the shape of the bottle, you might need to repeat this process anywhere from two to four times to make sure every last bit of soap is gone.

4. Of course, drying out the inside of the bottles is the part that takes the longest, because YOU can't actually dry them; you can only wait for the water to evaporate out of those narrow bottlenecks. Weather permitting, I've found the best way to do this is to arrange the bottles on a drying rack by a window, with direct sunlight shining in/on the bottles. Otherwise, I set up the drying rack in an out-of-the-way part of the house.

5. If you are going to partly fill bottles of water to freeze, DO NOT use bottles or jugs with irregular shapes; stick with symmetrical bottles, ideally cylinders rather than squared-off bottles or anything with angles. I learned this the hard way when I prepared for a hurricane last year (which, luckily, did NOT hit me after all): took a hollow-handled jug which originally held a gallon of iced tea; filled it about 80 percent with water (leaving room for the ice to expand, of course); and due to the irregular shape of the bottle, the ice ended up expanding in ways that completely split the bottle. Since I did not lose power, I only had to discard a giant irregularly-shaped ice cube plus a bunch of plastic shards; had that ice melted it would've been a LOT messier.

6. I reserve the right to add to this list later if I remember anything else.


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