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SLO council considers ban on sale of plastic bottles at city events and facilities

The San Luis Obispo City Council is considering a ban on plastic beverage bottles on city property and at events requiring a city permit.
The San Luis Obispo City Council is considering a ban on plastic beverage bottles on city property and at events requiring a city permit.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article erroneously identified San Luis Obispo City Councilwoman Andy Pease as part of a group on the City Council that called for a more comprehensive ban on plastic bottle sales. Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson was a part of that group, not Pease.

In a move to keep plastic beverage bottles from ending up in the landfill or becoming unsightly litter, the San Luis Obispo City Council is working toward a policy to ban the sale of single-use plastic bottles on all city-owned property and at events that require a city permit.

In a study session at its meeting Tuesday, the City Council initially considered drawing up a ban on the sale of plastic water bottles on city grounds and at events such as Concerts in the Plaza, Downtown SLO Farmers Market and the San Luis Obispo Marathon.

But the council chose to expand its recommendation to plastic bottles for beverages of all types, including sodas and juices.

“The last thing we want to do is shift people away from using plastic water bottles to using soda, and we have a plastic bottle problem there, as well,” Mayor Heidi Harmon said.

According to information from CalRecycle, the state recycling agency, more than 13 million plastic bottles were bought in the city in the fiscal year 2015-16, and 41 percent of those were recycled, indicating that the rest ended up in a landfill or as litter. Countywide, 52 percent of plastic bottles were recycled.

The last thing we want to do is shift people away from using plastic water bottles to using soda, and we have a plastic bottle problem there, as well.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon

The council isn’t intending to ban the sale of plastic bottles in stores or to prohibit the public from bringing their own plastic beverage bottles to an event. But the recommended policy change is intended to encourage the use of water fountains and reusable bottles on city grounds.

The council began exploring a city regulation on plastic bottles last February, based on an ordinance passed in San Francisco in 2014 that banned water bottle sales on city property.

As the San Luis Obispo policy moves forward, the council said it would support increasing the number of water-filling stations — water fountains with faucets for refilling reusable water bottles — across the city. City staff will draft policy recommendations to add more public and commercial water-filling facilities.

Councilman Aaron Gomez said plenty of business venues will still offer bottled drinks near downtown, but he favored the ban to reduce the city’s overall use of plastic.

“If the true goal is to eliminate plastics, we lose that if we limit it to water bottles,” Gomez said.

Council members Dan Rivoire and Andy Pease recommended a less restrictive policy that would ban the sale of water bottles at city facilities but not at events.

“I’m uncomfortable with expanding (a ban) to city-permitted events,” said Rivoire, adding that he supports the use of water-filling stations. “We can empower the community to make these decisions on their own.”

Pease questioned whether the use of aluminum cans would increase in place of plastic bottles, an issue that could be explored through an environmental review, according to city staff.

I’m uncomfortable with expanding (a ban) to city-permitted events.

City Councilman Dan Rivoire

Harmon, Gomez and Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson called for the more comprehensive ban that included city-permitted events.

Mary Ciesinski, the executive director of the nonprofit environmental protection advocacy group ECOSLO, told the council that bottles and bottle caps are among the trash picked up most often in coastal cleanups. Birds such as seagulls and albatrosses might consume bottle caps, which can kill them, she said.

Ciesinski said bottled drinks have only been marketed since the 1980s, so changing people’s behavior can happen fairly quickly, similar to how residents developed the habit of bringing reusable bags to the grocery store instead of relying on plastic bags.

“I urge your support on the ban of a sale of plastic water bottles,” Ciesinski said. “Water bottles are a convenience, but when that convenience is removed, behavior shifts.”

City staff will bring back its recommendations for a new policy at an unspecified date for the council to consider.

Their recommendations will include options for phasing in the new regulation and potential fines for vendors in violation, as well as an educational component to ensure the community is aware of the policy change.

In a city survey sent to 500 local businesses, 63 responded. Of those, 60 percent said they don’t sell beverages in plastic bottles, and 68 percent said their business didn’t rely on profits from those sales.

Forty-three percent said they were concerned about a potential ban of sales on city property, compared with 45 percent who said they weren’t concerned.

 
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