In mid-March, the city’s board of supervisors in San Francisco voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of bottled water in single use bottles 21 ounces or less on city property beginning on October 1, 2014 for indoor events and 2016 for outdoor events. The new ordinance will exempt large sporting venues, food trucks and large non-profits for the time being. They will also need to comply by 2018. There will be water filling stations posted in event areas where you can instead use a reusable bottle. This initiative is part of a program to achieve net zero waste by 2020.
San Francisco is making a bold, but very important move when it comes to the plastic pollution problem that is plaguing our lands and oceans. This initial first move covers only plastic water bottles, not soda or other beverages in plastic containers. It is a good start, but is this enough? It is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t solve the problem. New measures can and will be rolled out that gradually phase out the use of plastic bottles, but it won’t happen overnight.
The bottled water industry has been very effective marketing their products to the world and people are now buying over 100 billion dollars’ worth of bottled water worldwide. The result of this mass consumption has created tremendous amounts of plastic trash- the majority of which ends up in landfills. Some say the answer is recycling. According to the EPA, plastic bottle (PET plastic) recycling rate in the U.S. is 31%. To put it into perspective, China has a recycling rate of 90%. If we truly want to make headway, we have a long way to go.
The recycling issue aside, we still have a huge problem on our hands and solutions need to be put into motion now. The passing of the San Francisco ordinance made some people cheer, while others see it as a political move or a feel good project for environmentalists. After reading many discussions and comments about this particular ban from the general public, I found it imperative to address some of the misconceptions that people have when it comes to bottled water and the addiction to it.
Back in the early 90’s, the bottled water industry was just gearing up. At that time most people didn’t realize the implications it would have on our environment in regards to pollution, as well as the loss of water resources to major corporations. Marketing campaigns would have you believe that tap water is bad and their bottled spring water is not only healthy, but the only thing you should be putting into your body. Due to this, it is remarkable how many people truly believe that they should only drink bottled water. The truth is that most bottled water is from the tap. Now, obviously tap water is better in some places than in others. According to the EPA, 90% of the tap water in the U.S. is deemed safe on a state and federal level.
The biggest issue that most people miss when it comes to bottled water is the fact that we are selling our most precious and most needed water resources to giant conglomerates. According to the documentary ‘Bottled Life’, the Nestlé Corporation owns 70% of the bottled water industry. According to the same documentary, Nestlé has built a test facility in Pakistan. Shortly thereafter the ground water became reduced and the wells were reduced to sludge. However, they were more than happy to sell the thirsty Pakistanis’ the ‘Nestlé Pure’ bottled water they took from the same area. Make of that what you will.
Then there is the simple logistics of the number of bottles versus a filter attached to your faucet. According to the PUR website, a filter lasts 100 gallons. A typical bottle of water is 16.9 ounces. There are seven and a half bottles to one gallon or 700-plus bottles versus one filter for your faucet. This is how many bottles a person can keep out of landfills. If a person simply bought the water filter, then they wouldn’t have spent any money on bottled water to begin with as well as wouldn’t have to figure out what to do with 700-plus empty bottles.
So here we are as San Francisco’s ban on bottled water is becoming a reality. This isn’t about government control, or about taking away anyone’s rights. They are the first major city in the U.S. to acknowledge that we have a serious problem on our hands. The plastics and pollutants affect wildlife, our land and our oceans. One only needs to look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Google it) to identify how widespread this issue has become.
There are always things that people can do to help. For instance, an obvious choice would be to recycle your plastics. However, in this case the best answer is to not cause the problem in the first place by bringing bottled water into your home. So the next time you are at your local grocery store, think twice before you grab that next bottle of water.