For years, plastic pollution has been a growing concern with more than 13 million tons of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year. As many countries and municipalities are taking necessary steps to make the environment greener, San Francisco recently stepped into the spotlight for banning the sale of plastic bottles on city property. Many environmentalists believe that such steps would encourage neighboring counties to take measures and reduce plastic products designed for single-use.
Plastic pollution and the harm it causes on the environment.
Today, mankind is using more plastic items than in the past century. While bottled water is convenient, the plastic used wreaks havoc on our environment. It is estimated that in the United States alone, every second of every day, more than 1,500 plastic bottles are discarded; sending more than 38 billion water bottles to landfills every year. Only about 30% of the produced plastic gets recycled and the remaining 70% will go directly to landfills and to our oceans; where they will slowly break into smaller and smaller pieces and take thousands of years to biodegrade.
Switching to tap water and using filtration systems not only helps the environment, it also helps our wallets. Bottled water costs 1,000 times more than tap water and drinking 2 liters of tap water a day only costs 50 cents per year. Apart from that, when sellers leave bottles to bake in the sun, the toxins in the plastic bleaches into the water, which is then consumed by us. Drinking such toxins can have a negative impact on your health and can even lead to serious illnesses such as cancer.
The plastic in our oceans.
There’s no denying that our oceans are filled with plastic waste. On top of the millions of tons of plastic that enters our oceans every year, it is estimated that 150 million metric tons of plastic waste is already circulating our marine environments. The waste includes straws, plastic bags, cups, bottles, fishing nets and nano plastic. Located halfway between Hawaii and California, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans.
According to The Ocean Cleanup, more than half of the plastic that enters our oceans are less dense than water, meaning that it will not sink once it encounters the sea. This causes them to be carried out towards some of the most pristine parts of the world and cause harm to marine life. To put things into perspective, GPGP covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.
The San Francisco measure.
San Francisco originally incorporated the law in 2014, but the prohibition was not as strict as the new one. As a step towards making the city greener, San Francisco banned any sales of plastic water bottles on city-owned property. This means that vendors may not sell bottled water at events held on city-owned property and also forbids government agencies from purchasing bottled water. The new measures were enacted in hopes of reducing the amount of plastic bottles produced every year since lesser consumption means manufacturers will be forced to make a change.
According to the San Fransisco Examiner, violators found selling plastic water bottles that are 21 oz or below on city grounds would be subject to a fine of up to $1,000. San Francisco isn’t the first and will most likely not be the last. Many National Parks around the US have bans on the use or sales of plastic bottles in the premises. The beverage industry however, did not take this lightly. According to them, the bottles “are not being thrown away…They are being recycled”. Reports however, show that only around 30% of the bottles are being recycled while the rest are being dumped in landfills as well as reaching our oceans.
The law will work in San Francisco since the city has the advantage of possessing high quality tap water. Law makers believe that this would encourage neighboring cities to follow a greener and more safer path to protect our environment. Cities such as Flint, MI, however, might have trouble following the same path since more work is required to make tap water safe for consumption. The goal of the city’s authorities is to wipe out all the waste that would otherwise go to a landfill by 2020.
San Francisco is also installing free water refilling stations, that allows the public to make refills on their reusable bottles all around the city. According to the Supervisor of the Board, David Chiu, “In San Francisco, we’ve been leading the way in fighting for our environment… Now people can just take a refillable water bottle, put it under a tap, and fill it up”. Reusable bottles are also becoming a trend in the city with hundreds of people supporting the city’s initiative to combat plastic pollution.
While San Francisco’s steps to reduce plastic pollution might not make a big difference in the already present issue, it shows that it’s never too late for us to make a change. Hopefully, other cities and countries would see the difference and start making changes towards a greener and healthier lifestyle.