SF Bans Bottled Water on City Property

The City of San Francisco recently announced that it would ban the sale of bottled water in containers less than 21 oz on city property. San Francisco will be the first major city in the US to enact such a ban, though Concord, Massachusetts and Grand Canyon National Park have already replaced bottled water with water bottle filling stations. With a unanimous vote from the SF board of supervisors, elected officials expressed their support for the bill because of the benefits to the environment.  

Critics of the new bill claim that water bottles cause a negligible environmental impact because they are made of recyclable plastic. However, even the International Bottled Water Association, a group that represents the bottled water industry, acknowledges that only 38% of water bottles are recycled. The environmental advocacy group Ban the Bottle purports that in fact, a mere 23% are recycled, which reflects the total percentage of plastic recycling nationwide. However, focusing on the landfill versus recycling equation distracts from another environmental cost of bottled water – the production and transport of the bottles. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President, David Chiu, illustrated this point with a water bottle one-quarter full of oil ­­– the amount of fuel it takes to produce and transport one 1.5-pound bottle.

Each year, 9.82 billion plastic water bottles are purchased and 17,677 tons of discarded bottles end up in the waste stream in New York City alone, according to the Department of Sanitation. Since NYC started paying $91 per ton to ship waste out-of-state in 2009, and those costs are expected to rise, that amounts to at least $1.6 million a year spent on the disposal of plastic water bottles. While there are certainly more pressing waste issues in NYC at the moment, such as composting organic waste, San Francisco provides a precedent for waste reduction and environmental sustainability.

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