Last March, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a bottle-banning ordinance – quickly signed into law by Mayor Edwin M. Lee – prohibiting the sale of plastic water bottles on public property throughout this seismically-active city. The ban goes into effect in October 2014, the first of its kind in America: will it resonate around the world as a model in dealing with municipal waste?
“Where we have public spaces, in buildings, parks and other open space—these are places that we don’t want the sale or distribution of plastic water bottles,” said city official David Chiu who introduced the ordinance last year.
“San Francisco might have done it just a little bit to make every other American city look even worse,” wrote Eve Andrews in Grist.
Most US cities do pale against ‘Frisco. Did you know that television, Chinese fortune cookies and Irish Coffee were all invented in in the “City by the Bay”? Levi Strauss sewed the first pair of blue jeans there (1873). It’s the birthplace of the world’s first cable car (same year) – and the first public transit system run solely by electricity (1874). It’s where the United Nations was founded (1945), and its Human Rights Commission – formed in 1964 – has been at the forefront of the American civil rights movement. And San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on America’s Pacific Coast.
That last fact in large part underpins the city’s environmental activism – and civic action. This bottle ban resulted from ten years of grassroots organizing. Residents will be encouraged to use reusable bottles, which will lower demand for waste collection and recycling, saving the city money and reducing strain on landfills. It also chokes the growing feed-stock of plastic pollution, and slowly re-educates the public on smarter ways to re-hydrate.
Twenty-five years ago, this topic was not even on the table. People drank from public water taps, flowing with free, safe, city water. While most major cities in America and Europe did offer public drinking fountains, maintenance of these systems has long been abandoned as people moved to purchased water. Moving back to that model reclaims the commons of water from corporate control – water is a resource that belongs to all of us.
It’s unlikely that the water-starved nations in the Middle East will invest in permanent public drinking fountains, but there are portable alternatives that serve the same purpose. The video below, created by Center for a New American Dream, explains the new law and shows one such water station in action.
Does your zip code lack the political resolve to ban plastic bottles outright? Individual action is simple and also effective. Use reusables. Because weening ourselves off one-off water bottles will afford the same ecological, fiscal and health benefits that San Francisco will be enjoying.
It’s a common sense approach that needs to be expanded to all plastic bottles, regardless of their contents.