Last week, San Francisco International Airport announced it will stop selling disposable plastic water bottles on August 20th. It’s a brave step forward. Travelers are accustomed to finding Aquafina and Evian in cafes and kiosks, and change can be hard. But diligently working to phase out disposables is necessary to address the huge impact plastic is having on our planet.
“Our decision to prohibit the sale of water in plastic bottles was driven by our goal to achieve zero waste going to landfill, and to support San Francisco’s own environmental initiatives,” Doug Yakel, spokesman for SFO, told me. “We hope this move will inspire other airports to action as well.”
Yes, others should follow SFO’s lead, but not only because the plastic bottle is bad. We should also be talking about the water inside.
Corporations pump it out of taps and springs around the world, bottle it, transport it long distances, and sell it back to us at a higher price. It’s a ludicrous system. When a San Franciscan buys a bottle of Dasani, for example, they’re choosing to forgo free water from the pristine Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite, and spend money to drink another city’s tap water.
And there’s also the disastrous impacts corporate water grabs can have on communities near natural springs.
In the Mount Shasta region, roughly 300 miles north of San Francisco, the activist nonprofit group W.A.T.E.R. (We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review) and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe have filed multiple lawsuits around the approval of a new Crystal Geyser plant near the City of Mount Shasta. The lawsuits contend the proposed plant would drain local groundwater, pump toxins into a leach field system next to domestic drinking water wells and expose neighborhoods to harmful plant and truck emissions.
The tribe filed suit to protect their sacred springs and tribal rights under AB52, a new amendment to the California Environmental Quality Act protecting tribal cultural properties.
“All the springs on Mount Shasta are sacred to the Tribe,” Mark Miyoshi, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, told a gathering of activists last month. “It is so important to who we are as a Tribe to be able to carry ourselves knowing that we are protecting these spirits.”
Nearby the City of Mount Shasta, the fight for water is coming at a high cost to residents and the City of Weed. For over 100 years, Weed has depended on Beaughan Springs for water and the lumber industry for jobs. But when Crystal Geyser came to town, the local lumber company, Roseburg Forest Products, decided to sell Weed’s water and sue residents who dared to fight back. The litigation has dragged on since 2017 at a high cost to residents.
“In our democracy, our First Amendment right is under attack by corporate greed and unlimited legal funding Bob Hall, one of the Weed residents named in the suit, said. “We were sued for merely attempting to show how the water was given to the City of Weed.”
Whatever momentary pleasure plastic water bottles bring to our lives, it is not worth the harm it causes. SFO is absolutely right to ban their sale, and The City should follow suit.
Right now, San Francisco’s bottle ban is modest compared to its ban on bags, straws and Styrofoam. Plastic water bottles are barred from City properties and agencies may not purchase them. But San Francisco’s corner stores, coffee shops and movie theaters still sell the disposable good.
The City should create a ban similar to SFO and a growing number of Massachusetts towns. In 2013, Concord became the first in the United States to ban the sale of plastic water bottles, and the town of West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard prohibits the sale of non-alcoholic carbonated beverages in plastic.
These efforts go a long way to address plastic pollution. But they also draw a line in the sand. Water shouldn’t come with a price tag. We can’t continue to let big business harm communities and the planet by selling public resources back to us.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com