SF plastic bottle ban targets ‘Big Soda’

CITY HALL — San Francisco moved closer to banning plastic water bottles on City property after an broadly-supported ordinance unanimously passed its first reading at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Should it pass the second reading — often a formality — San Francisco will phase out plastic water bottles on public property, a historic first.

The ordinance would amend the Environment Code to restrict the sale or distribution on City property of drinking water in plastic bottles of 21 ounces or less.

It would also set City policy to increase the availability of drinking water in public areas, and bar the use of City funds to purchase bottled water.

Board President David Chiu said people use half a billion bottles of water every week, enough to circle the globe twice, and Americans drink more bottled water than any other nation.

Chiu said SF’s Recology company collects 10 to 15 million single-use plastic water bottles every year:

“We all know that there are incredible, enormous environmental costs of plastic water bottles. It takes 2000 times more energy to manufacture, transport, distribute and discard and recycle plastic water bottles as it does to access tap water.”

Legislation co-author Supervisor Eric Mar predicted organizations aligned with the beverage industry will now step up their opposition:

“Many of you may have received in the mail a mailer from the American Beverage Association yesterday; I think it went out to every single voter. … The main opponent of this ground-breaking, historic piece of legislation is the American Beverage Association and people would ask ‘why is that?”

Mar pointed out that bottled water brands Dasani and Aquafina are owned by Coca Cola and PepsiCo, respectively:

“I think the next step is … to expand the number of drink tap stations and access to water, especially in lower-income communities. We need to take the profit away from the America Beverage Association as they try to mislead the public in our mail boxes and in campaigns opposing historic measures like this.”

Supervisor London Breed, however, had some concerns about the legal consequences of defying this ordinance, particularly in cases where an area might have plumbing challenges and not enough money to fix them.

Chiu said if for some reason a facility doesn’t have easy access to water, there is a three-year grace period for enforcement of compliance:

“There are certain venues where we know that implementing this will be challenging. We add a little bit more time to that. … Now if it turns out that there is someone who knowingly violates the provisions of this ordinance … we do have some fees or penalties for that. For the first violation is up to $500, for a second violation within a twelve-month period it’s $750. … We do take it seriously. It’s important for us to do.”

Breed asked who would enforce this law. Chiu answered that it would be the SF Department of the Environment:

“The fact of the matter is we don’t have people that are patrolling on a regular basis and really being the environmental enforcers . … But simply by having these laws on the books it changes people’s behavior and many of the event producers and the vendors that we are talking about, they have already been thinking about how to phase out plastic water bottles.”

Breed said she knew of at least one facility, the African American Art & Culture Center, with only one water fountain, on the first floor:

“They don’t have the resources to fundraise in order to put adequate water access throughout the building and so because this is not necessarily clearly-defined … I’m OK with moving forward with the organization but if we’re going to talk about in the future enforcement or additional resources to the Department of the Environment code enforcement, I’m going to be concerned with that because … unless we clearly define what that action means then I want us to be very careful about how we continue to regulate these various organizations throughout the City.”

Supervisor Jane Kim said when former Mayor Gavin Newsom banned plastic water bottles in City Hall a few years ago, she decided that she needed to understand the water bottle ban:

“It definitely takes some education to understand what is wrong with bottled water. … “I’m happy to add my name as a co-sponsor.”

Supervisor John Avalos said bottled water is a sign of the “privatization of water:”

“Water is one of the most, should be the most public resources you would have around the world. It comes from the sky. It comes from the oceans. It comes in our rivers. And yet the bottled water represents how our economy really dissects water and provides it to us at a great cost. … We’re going in the right direction.”