As of Oct. 1, the city of San Francisco is prohibited from buying plastic water bottles and the distribution of plastic bottles smaller than 21 ounces is banned on city property. The ban, however, excludes city marathons and other sporting events. The ban was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on March 4.
The legislation was co-authored by Board President David Chiu and Supervisors Eric Mar and Jane Kim. Chiu said that the “current fad” of buying bottle water only started in the 1990s. According to the bill, Americans buy half a billion bottles of water every week, which is enough to circle the globe twice, more bottles of water than any other nation. “An estimated 2 million tons of plastic water bottles end up in landfills each year. In San Francisco, Recology collects 10-15 million single-use plastic water bottles a year, and this number does not include bottles that go to redemption centers or landfill.”
“Congratulations to Supervisors Chiu and Mar for spearheading this important legislation that helps San Francisco take another step closer to achieving zero waste,” said Joshua Arce, president of the San Francisco Commission on the Environment. “This law will not only help reduce the negative environmental impacts of bottled water, but demonstrates how San Francisco continues to champion legislation that both reduces waste and keeps litter out of our streets and Bay.”
It takes a plastic bottle in a landfill centuries to decompose and nearly all of that plastic is made from petroleum, which takes about 17 million gallons of crude oil each year to make the bottled water consumed in the United States. Additionally, the bottles require significant energy to transport and travel long journeys to reach United States markets. When incinerated, a plastic bottle releases chlorine gas and heavy metal ash into the atmosphere. In 2007, the San Francisco mayor made an executive order to ban the purchase of bottled water by city departments with city funds.
“The environmental impact of our yearly consumption of billions of plastic water bottles is enormous. Given that San Franciscans can access clean and inexpensive Hetch Hetchy water out of our taps, we need to wean ourselves off our recent addiction to plastic water bottles,” said Chiu. “I hope San Franciscans can again lead the way by drinking water without harming the environment or the bottom line.”
According to a press release issued by the city of San Francisco, in recognition that people need increased access to tap water, the legislation also requires city government to take action to increase access to water in public places. “Where feasible, it requires that drinking fountains, filling stations, and hook-ups for events be installed as part of a renovation in a heavily used public park or plaza. It also asks the city to investigate solutions that would allow events to hook up to the municipal water infrastructure.”
According to Ban the Bottle, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38 last year.
While San Francisco is the first large city to ban plastic bottles, two dozen units of the National Park System have banned the sale of disposable water bottles. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, disposable water bottles are the biggest source of trash that parks must pay to haul away.
Golden Gate National Recreational Area, which is the most heavily visited national park, and Biscayne Bay National Park in Florida are installing water filling stations that will provide free water to visitors.