In a bold move the Board of Supervisors (BOS) in San Francisco has voted unanimously to phase out the sale and distribution of plastic water bottles on city owned or rented grounds.
The agreement means that San Franciscans could see ‘single-use’ plastic bottles disappear from many shelves across the municipality over time. But as yet they will still be available for sale in corner stores and by supermarket chains.
The BOS also voted to ban any future purchase of plastic water bottles with city funds.
"There are incredible, enormous environmental costs of plastic water bottles," said Supervisor David Chiu, who introduced the measure. He believes that if the ban is effective on public property than the city can look at the next steps, which could include a complete ban across the board.
The plan will go to a second reading and vote next week and is expected to be signed by Mayor, Ed Lee. Then from October onwards the purchase of water in plastic bottles will not be allowed and plastic water bottles will be banned from indoor events held on public property. The ban will extend to the majority of outdoor events and sales on public property by the year 2016.
A problem with the ban was highlighted in January by Commissioner Gravannis during a Commission on the Environment meeting. Gravannis said that public health and hydration should remain a great importance and that a ban on plastic water bottles without an available, adequate water supply could not be enforced.
At that meeting, during public comment, Environmental strategy consultant and San Francisco resident, Ms. Kate Krebs said she found it hard to imagine that millions of plastic bottles were being thrown away given that the city had an 80 percent diversion rate she questioned the city’s recycling infrastructure.
Another city resident, Ms. Llyse Magi questioned the term ‘reusable’ in relation to plastic water bottles and plastic bags. She expressed concerns that thick bags were now being used in place of regular plastic bags and that she didn’t want the same thing to happen with water bottles. Although she said she would support the ordinance, as it would mean reduction at source rather than creating further waste/recycling.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday (Tuesday) Chiu, who is President of the Board stated that San Francisco was leading the way in combating climate change and that he hoped his Board colleagues would support the ordinance to “reduce and discourage the use of single use and single serving, plastic water bottles’.
“Today Americans buy half a billion bottles of water every week, which is enough to circle the globe twice. And Americans drink more bottled water than any other nation,” Supervisor Chiu told the Board.
“in 1976 the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water per year,” he added.
And according to Chiu’s figures, that number had risen to 28 gallons per person by 2007.
Speaking about the overall environmental costs of producing and distributing bottled water, he said that one company alone collects 10-15 million single-use water bottles per year, not including those that go to redemption centers or landfill.
"It’s estimated that it takes a typical single-use, plastic water bottle a thousand years to biodegrade,” Chui said.
Chiu said that the he had recently organized a taste-test that proved that members of the public found it difficult to distinguish between the city’s Hetch Hetchy sourced tap water and bottled water.
An inventory of the city’s public spaces and buildings will also be undertaken to list and determine were further public water access should be made available.
Christopher Hogan, of the International Bottled Water Association said in a recent interview that he thought the new rules would make it difficult to choose water as a healthier alternative to sodas or other drinks that could still be readily available.
"If people are at an event and they don't have a reusable container in front of them, they're going to look for a packaged beverage,” he said.
"It really reduces people's opportunity to choose the healthiest packaged beverage, which is bottled water,” Hogan added.
Penalties of $500 for a first offense and $750 for a further offense will be enforced by the Department of the Environment
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