San Francisco’s Airport Just Banned the Sale of Plastic Water Bottles

The plastic water bottle ban is part of the airport's plan to be a zero-waste facility by 2021

Aug 16, 2019

San Francisco's Airport is going plastic water bottle free on August 20, 2019. Travelers will no longer be able to pick up a plastic bottle of water before they fly, but don't worry about going thirsty while you wait, the airport has some sustainable alternatives in place.

The city of San Francisco banned the sale of plastic water bottles on city-owned property in 2014 but allowed some exemptions or delays in implementing the law. Now the airport is following suit by banning the sale of plastic water bottles in all shops, restaurants, and vending machines.

Water can only be sold in glass, recycled aluminum or biodegradable materials. The airport already installed almost 100 water-bottle filling stations. With around 4 million plastic water bottles being sold yearly at the airport according to the Associated Press, this is quite a change.

“We waited until now because a few years back there was really no market in place to provide an alternative to water in a plastic bottle,” SFO’s public information officer, Doug Yakel, told The Guardian.

This is part of the airport's five-year strategic plan that was launched in 2016 to be a zero-waste facility in 2021 according to SFO's website. The airport has already installed solar panels as part of its commitment to sustainability.

Because every traveler creates half-a-pound of trash according to the airport plastic straws have already been banned, all food containers must be combustible, and restaurants can only give out single-use condiment packages upon customer request. In addition, any water bottle that claims to be environmentally friendly of bio-based will have to be approved by the Biodegradable Plastics Institute before it can be sold.

Complying with the other restrictions has been fairly easy according to Michael Levine, CEO of the company that oversees Napa Farm Market's grab-and-go foods in two terminals of the airport. But the water bottle impact is a little trickier,” he told AP.

Single-use plastics have been an environmental disaster. It takes over 500 years for plastic to decompose in landfills and much of it goes into our oceans. In the US, only 9.1 percent of plastics are recycled, 15.5 percent was combusted for energy and 74.5 percent went into landfills according to the EPA.

Even though public awareness has pushed more people to recycle, much of what is put in bins cannot actually be recycled because it is made of mixed materials, is not washed, or bottles still have caps on them.

Yakel told The Guardian that he is hoping this move by the airport will encourage manufacturers to stop using plastic packaging. “We’re hoping that as the demand from retailers increases, there’s an increasing supply of water that’s bottled in something recyclable,” Yakel said. “We’re hoping to drive that industry as well.”

Other airports in Dubai and India have announced plastic bottle bans but they have not been implemented yet. San Francisco is the first and hopefully not the last. Removing millions of plastic water bottles from bustling airports will go a long way to help clean up our environment.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.