SF Becomes First Major City to Ban Sale of Plastic Water Bottles

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San Francisco became the first major city Tuesday to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on public property, building on a nationwide effort to curb the billion-dollar industry.

The nine-month in the making proposal by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu navigated through a number of challenging issues from the city's drinking water infrastructure to the impacts on events like the Folsom Street Fair or lower-key nonprofit events that often rely on the sales of the plastic water bottles for revenue.

Also, as the American Beverage Association opposed the restrictions staunch environmentalists were calling for tougher ones.

The ban phases out during then next four years 21 ounce or less plastic water bottles on city properties, both indoor or outdoor, impacting park vendors, food truck operators, street fairs and places like Moscone Center, The City's convention facility. Waivers are also permissible if an adequate alternative water source is not available.

It was not long ago that our world wasn't addicted to plastic water bottles," Chiu said. "It wasn't until the 1990s that the now $60 billion plastic bottle water industry experienced an enormous growth based on massive marketing and distribution campaigns." The proposal was supported by the Think Outside the Bottle campaign, a nationwide effort finding success in encouraging restrictions of the "eco-unfriendly product."

The proposal is less strict than the full bans passed by Concord, Mass., 14 national parks and a number of universities. "This is legislation that takes a much more targeted approach to reducing plastic bottle waste," Chiu said. Violators would face fines of up to $1,000.

The Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to approve the legislation. In San Francisco Recology collects 10 million to 15 million single use plastic water bottles a year, Chiu said.

Joshua Arce, chair of the Environment Commission, said that the ban is "another step forward on our zero-waste goal." The City wants to have zero waste going to its landfill by 2020. The City diversion rate is 80 percent. Past efforts included banning plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. "We had big public events for decades without plastic bottles and we'll do fine without them again."

The American Beverage Association, which includes The Coca-Cola Company and the Pepsi Cola Company, said in a statement that the ban was "nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. This is a misguided attempt by city supervisors to decrease waste in a city of avid recyclers."

Chiu said that future restrictions may follow. 

"If we can do this on public property and folks understand that this is absolutely doable then we can look at next steps," he said.