U.S. airport in San Francisco bans small plastic water bottles in bid for zero waste

By Kate Ryan

NEW YORK, Aug 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A ban on the sale of plastic water bottles went into effect at San Francisco International Airport in California on Tuesday, in line with the city's efforts to reduce single use plastics often identified as a contributor to climate change.

Travelers will no longer be able to purchase bottles of water smaller than 1 liter from airport shops, vending machines or restaurants, and are instead encouraged to bring their own bottle or buy a glass or aluminum container at airport stores.

"On average 9,000 water bottles are purchased at #SFO every single day, and we want to do everything we can to reduce that impact," the airport, which hopes to become the first zero-waste airport by 2021, tweeted on Tuesday.

"We've been looking at policies and programs that would support that goal for a couple of years now," Doug Yakel, a spokesman for San Francisco Airport told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We're hoping this will really move the dial."

As consumers become increasingly educated about fossil fuels used to produce plastic and their contribution to climate change, private companies and local governments have begun adopting plastic waste initiatives.

Millions of tons of plastic ends up in landfills and oceans each year, where it can take up to 1000 years to break down.

San Francisco, on the central California coast, has been a leader in the United States in plastic waste reduction moves such as phasing out the sale of plastic bottles on city-owned or leased land and banning bottled water purchases with city funds.

The airport, which generates an estimated 28 million pounds of waste annually, was originally exempt from that ban. Earlier this year it required take-away containers to be compostable, and many municipalities are banning plastic drinking straws.

Vendors are allowed to sell bottled water in stock and have been provided information on 25 approved canned and glass bottle alternatives.

Yakel said the hope is for the sustainable water packaging market to grow, and that manufacturers of juice and soda containers, which are not included in the ban, begin innovating.

(Reporting by Kate Ryan. Editing by Chris Michaud