A unanimous vote last Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors marked the first step in the city’s intended four-year phase-out of plastic water bottles. If the mayor signs off on the legislation, it would mean the end of single-use bottles being sold on city property, and San Francisco would become the largest municipality in the country to implement a plastic water ban.
The ban would be initiated October 2014 in city-owned buildings and indoor city-managed events, eliminating the sale of all disposable plastic water bottles less than or equal to 21 ounces. City funds would no longer be allowed to be used toward the purchase of bottled water. Though certain temporary exceptions are planned-—notably, at San Francisco International Airport and at sporting events such as marathons on public property—the plan is to expand the ban over time. The next step in the phase-out would be extending the ban to outdoor events on city property, applying to vendors of food trucks, park concessions, parades and more. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 once the phase-out has begun.
The water bottle ban could extend city-wide in the future, applying to private events and property as well as public, but the successful implementation of this initial phase-out is key to long-term success. Of course, there are hurdles and open-ended questions to be addressed regarding the sustainability of the plan. The Los Angeles Times raises the question of safe and accessible water in a recent editorial. After a leniency period, organizers of public sporting events like marathons would have to locate their own water sources, and the ability to find such sources has not been largely addressed. The writers of the editorial argue that even though the goal to eliminate plastic bottle waste is an admirable one, it must go hand-in-hand with an assurance of free and clean public water lest citizens turn to other bottled beverages and simply replace plastic bottle waste with soda bottle waste.
Toward a Larger Goal
Despite the high number of San Francisco residents who actively recycle, an estimated tens of millions of plastic bottles still ultimately go to local landfills every year. The impact of disposable plastic bottles is greater than just the bottles themselves as is evidenced by the millions of barrels of oil, major contributors to climate change, that are used to produce and transport them throughout the United States. The plastic bottle ban is a major step in San Francisco’s “Zero Waste by 2020” goal, following in the footsteps of a plastic bag ban and a foam food container ban. If the phase-out is successful, plastic bottle bans could become more widespread, reducing waste all over the country.