City hopes bottle ban holds water

Events in city streets and parks could become BYOB — as in bring your own bottle.

A ban on the sale of single-use water bottles at events on city property — including parks, streets and festivals — is being pitched. And considering San Francisco’s trend-setting policies on plastic bags and soda, it’s likely to pass.

The average American drinks 30 gallons of bottled water each year, but a movement to curb that amount is afoot, including an outright ban in Concord, Mass., this spring.

San Francisco’s effort follows Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2007 executive order in which he famously prohibited The City from purchasing bottled water, according to Environment Commissioner Ruth Gravanis, who conceived the proposal.

“We’re not telling the private sector what to do or what not to do, but we can at least say if you’re going to hold an event on city property, you need to think of alternatives to single-serve bottled water,” Gravanis said.

The ban would extend to the lease and use agreements for events such as the Outside Lands concert in Golden Gate Park or the San Francisco Pride Parade, where consumption of alcohol is widespread.

To quench people’s thirst, Gravanis said event promoters could either give away or cheaply sell reusable bottles and then provide sources of municipal water to fill them, either through water fountains or large jugs or tanks of water.

“Hopefully, they would take [the reusable bottles] home and use them again and again and not throw them in the trash to fill our landfills,” Gravanis said.

Julie Bryant, The City’s zero-waste coordinator, was tasked with exploring the ban and will present her findings when the preliminary proposal is discussed today at the Environment Commission’s policy committee.

If done right, the concept could be effective, said Peter Gleick, founder of the Oakland-based environmental group Pacific Institute and author of the book “Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind our Obsession with Bottled Water.”

Gleick said the move wouldn’t be as bold as the complete ban on the sale of bottled water imposed by Concord, Mass. But it’s still an intriguing idea, as long as other sources of water are made available, he said.

“If it’s coupled with an effort to ensure that high-quality municipal water is freely or cheaply available, that would be great,” Gleick said, “especially given the high quality of San Francisco’s tap water.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Tom Lauria, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, said the proposal would “compromise people’s health in public situations when they’re thirsty.”

“It seems far more sensible for San Francisco to increase the venues bottled water is available and then focus on recycling,” he said. “The counterbalance to bottled water is recycling, not bans.”

Thirsty consumers

1,000 gallons Amount of municipal water San Franciscans can purchase for the price of 1 gallon of bottled water
17 percent Amount of water bottles that get recycled
17 million Estimated barrels of oil used to make plastic water bottles Americans use each year
1.5 gallons Bottled water consumed per person in the U.S. in 1976
30 gallons Bottled water consumed per person in the U.S. in 2008

Sources: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Pacific Institute

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