A ban on single-used plastic water bottles went into effect at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) earlier this week.
Plastic is out for shops, restaurants, and vending machines, replaced by glass, aluminum, and certified compostable materials are in. Products with “unsubstantiated claims” about their sustainability — such as “bio-based,” “plant-based,” and “environmentally friendly” — are also banned. The Biodegradable Plastics Institute will have to approve them before being sold at SFO.
“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, said in an interview.
The move is part of SFO’s five-year strategic plan launched in 2016 to become a zero “waste-to-landfill” airport by 2021. Nearly 100 water bottle filling stations ahead of the water bottle ban announcement. Restaurants may only give customers single-use items such as condiment packets only by request.
The Mounting Plastic Waste Problem
Single-use plastic water bottles are recyclable, but whether or not they end up in the right bin is another story. A Guardian investigation last June revealed that only 9 percent of plastics in the U.S. are recycled. More than 70 percent of American’s plastic waste — the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers — is exported to poorer countries such as Vietnam to be processed each year.
China, the biggest consumer of plastic waste imports, banned nearly all plastic trash 20 months ago. Imports were initially rerouted to neighboring countries, but Vietnam and Thailand vowed to ban them in the next couple of years. Taiwan will implement its own new regulations while Malaysia and the Philippines are also considering changes to manage the plastic waste problem from other countries.
“Countries in this region are bucking this whole idea that they should be dumping grounds for the world’s waste,” Lea Guerrero, a Greenpeace activist in the Philippines, said last June. In light of the issue, the governments of 187 nations have agreed to better manage plastic waste between borders — not including the U.S., according to CNN.
The change highlights the need for western countries to move away single-use plastic bottles. Brands like Jaden Smith’s JUST Water and Michigan-based Boxed Water Is Better as well as refillable water bottles offer a more sustainable solution.
“We’re hoping that as the demand from retailers increases, there’s an increasing supply of water that’s bottled in something recyclable,” said Yakel. “We’re hoping to drive that industry as well.”