The City takes aim at bottled water

Plastic water bottles are the latest ecologically-insensitive modern convenience to come under scrutiny in San Francisco, as officials eye another step towards greener living.

The Board of Supervisors is considering an ordinance that would require owners of new and renovated buildings to install special bottle-filling taps in their water fountains.

The water from these special taps would be the same potable stuff that flows from bathroom sinks and old-fashioned water fountains. Studies have shown, though, that bottle re-use will increase if special taps are installed.

Pennsylvania State University has been experimenting with the taps for three years. According to Lydia Vandenbergh, who oversees the reduction of plastic bottle use on campus, students are more willing to use the special taps because they perceive drinking fountains as unsanitary.

The special taps cost at least $750 to install, but the university’s busiest taps replace the equivalent of 35,000 plastic bottles every month.

Mae Wu, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, pointed out to the Washington Post:

“San Francisco has among the best drinking water in country. It’s ridiculous that people would go out and spend their now very limited dollars to buy bottled water.”

Especially armed with such high-quality drinking water, one wonders why The City doesn’t take a page out of Venice’s playbook in the fight against plastic water bottle use.

Though the majority of tap water is safe to drink in Italy, Italians had been the No. 1 consumers of bottled water on the planet. In 2009, the average Italian drank 40 gallons of bottled water ever year.

Playing off of the heavily-branded approach of most bottled waters, Venetian city officials launched their own brand for their municipal tap water.

The Acqua Veritas campaign in Venice distributed free carafes marked with its trendy logo to local households. Even though Venetian tourists far outnumber permanent residents, plastic waste collected in the city dropped by 27 tons in one year alone.

Like Venice, San Francisco is a city full of tourists. So what if The City teamed up with Nalgene or Lifefactory to create a San Francisco-themed re-usable water container?  Tourists could buy them in the usual t-shirt and postcard shops and lug them home as a souvenirs.

Starbucks and others already sell loads of San Francisco souvenir coffee mugs, so clearly there’s a market for it.