The amount of bottled water that Americans drink every week is enough to circle the entire globe twice. This along with other alarming facts has motivated San Francisco politicians to pursue environmental regulation to the extent that no other major city in the US has dared to do – banning bottled water.
Previously this liberal California city led the ban on plastic shopping bags. However, their proposal for restricting bottled water in 2014 was more modest. Despite the fact that the board of supervisors unanimously voted to phase out single-use plastic water bottle sales, this rules applied only to city property.
State Assemblyman David Chiu, who introduced this measure when he was a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, said that they knew that they needed to be smart given how addicted Americans are to plastic water bottles. He added that there many people who can’t imagine what their lives would be like if they didn’t have their plastic water bottles.
So despite the fact that San Francisco is renowned as being one of the country’s most environmentally progressive cities – including being the first city in the United States to pass a comprehensive composting and mandatory recycling law – the bottled water ban was limited by officials to just land owned by the city, which left private businesses unaffected by the water bottle ban.
In recent years this ordinance has been expanded, and now also bars bottled water be sold at large events held on city properties. It also prohibits any San Francisco government agencies from buying plastic bottled water. In addition, legislators are calling for increased investment in event water hook-ups, filling stations and water fountains.
Tyrone Jue, who is a senior advisor in the mayor’s office on the environment, says that San Francisco has great, high-quality water, and that it is regulated more heavily than the water that you get in bottles.
Rolling out the law hasn’t been easy, despite the fact that it is limited to just city property. After being banned from being able to sell bottled water at any city events, there are some vendors who have switched over to other ecologically harmful products, like water in glass bottles, cans and other types of single-use containers.
Suzanne Gautier, who is a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission manager, says that in some ways that packaging is just as harmful to the environment as plastic bottles. The Commission works to help event organizers stay in compliance with the law.
The city earlier this year expanded the law to include restricting the distribution or sale of any “packaged” water on any city properties, including cans, bags, sealed boxes or any other types of containers with a one liter or smaller capacity.
There is no data available from the city on the impact the law has had on the region’s plastic waste reduction. However, since it takes centuries for plastic bottles to decompose and that a vast majority of these bottles wind up in landfills, environmental campaigners state that any decrease in their use is a step headed in the right direction.
Chiu said he hopes the law can help change the culture in California and elsewhere back to those habits that were so common before the explosion of bottled water.
He pointed out that people forget just how rapidly drinking water was taken over by private corporations. The average American in 1976 drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water per year. Thirty years later, this number has skyrocketed up to 28.3 gallons per year.
Lauren DeRusha Flores, who is an associated campaign director for the nonprofit group Corporate Accountability International, which backed the measure in San Francisco, says that millions of dollars have been spent by the bottled water industry to convince people that the only safe water that you can get comes from a bottle and that is why you need their product.
Measures have been adopted by over 100 American cities to restrict government from spending money on bottled water. There have also been bans placed at universities and national parks. These changes may fly in the global trends to do with the beverage as this bottled water report suggests.
According to Flores, the measure in San Francisco is especially forward-thinking in how it makes increasing access to tap water that is safe a top priority. This is critical, especially during a time when concerns regarding contaminated water supplies have increased in the US following the Flint, Michigan crisis.
Flores says the city is reinforced water to be a public good instead of a commodity that corporations can buy and sell.
Currently San Francisco is not exploring any further bottled water prohibitions for the city. However, given the success that major plastic bag bans have had all over the country, Flores adds that increasingly environmental activities are focusing their attention on water bottles.