In San Francisco, Plastic Bottles Going the Way of Plastic Bags

City ban on world's most unnecessary item goes into effect later this year.

In San Francisco, Plastic Bottles Go the Way of Plastic Bags with City Ban

(Photo: Getty Images)

Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food.

Bottled water is no longer welcome in San Francisco.

The City by the Bay earlier this week scored yet another environmental first when legislators there unanimously voted to end the sale and distribution of plastic bottled water on municipal property—a move that will bring the city nearer its goal of diverting all its waste from landfill or incineration by 2020.

The sales ban takes San Francisco a step beyond former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2007 executive order forbidding it to purchase bottled water with city funds. While six states and at least 140 other American cities, such as Seattle, have also officially stopped buying bottled water with municipal money, San Francisco is the first major city to prohibit vendors on its property from selling the item.

The city estimates that San Franciscans alone send tens of millions of single-serving plastic water bottles to recycling or landfills every year. More than 75 percent of the 50 billion plastic bottles of water consumed by Americans each year—167 per person—are not recycled, according to journalist Charles Fishman.

“Given that San Franciscans can access clean and inexpensive water out of our taps, we need to wean ourselves out of our addiction to plastic water bottles,” said David Chiu, the county supervisor who introduced the ordinance. “The bottled water industry spends millions of dollars to undermine the public’s faith in tap water,” said Lauren DeRusha, an organizer with Corporate Accountability International, whose organization worked with San Francisco on the legislation as part of a national campaign to protect public water systems.

The legislation—which applies to bottles 21 ounces or smaller—will become official if signed by Mayor Ed Lee later this month and will be applied only to new leases and permits granted by the city. Exceptions will be made for events in areas with restricted access to public water until October 2016. Footraces and public sporting events will always be exempt, as will special circumstances where public health and safety are of concern.

The development in San Francisco is part of a growing movement to ban the bottle. Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Vermont have prohibited use of public money to buy single-use plastic bottled water. In January 2013, the town of Concord, Mass., stopped sales of any plastic bottled water 34 ounces or smaller within city limits. Dozens of colleges and universities have rid themselves of the bottles in their stores and vending machines. And U.S. national parks, such as Mount Rainier in Washington state, are getting in on the cause as well. Fourteen have already enacted a ban, says DeRusha, who is working on a national effort with Corporate Accountability International.

Not surprisingly, an industry group expressed opposition to the San Francisco ordinance.

“Water is good for you, and people should be able to choose how they drink it—whether from a tap, a fountain, or recyclable container,” the American Beverage Association expressed in a statement.

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