At a Jan. 3 meeting, all five SLO City Councilmembers had reusable water bottles with them on the dais. And they want you to join them.
In an effort to take the lead on sustainability, the SLO City Council gave its unanimous support for the development of a ban on the sale and distribution of single-use plastic bottles on city property. They also supported installing more water bottle filling stations in public spaces.
City staff will now craft an ordinance and capital improvement program, to be voted on at a later date. The City Council asked to phase in the plastic bottle ban, to first only apply to city uses, and then eventually affect third-party events held on city property, like the Farmers’ Market or Sinsheimer Stadium. In addition to adding more bottle filling stations at parks and city facilities (there are four currently), the building code could also change to require private developers to include them in their projects.
SLO Assistant City Manager Derek Johnson told New Times the initiative is about leading a behavioral shift from the top.
“We have to walk the walk,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, I think the City Council recognizes that this is about changing people’s habits and orienting you towards a more sustainable use of resources.”
Cal Poly grad and environmental advocate Cory Jones brought forward the plastic bottle ban idea to the City Council last year. City staff then researched other cities that have implemented bans—namely San Francisco, which banned the sale and distribution of single-use plastic water bottles 21 ounces or less on city and county grounds in 2014.
The idea of a ban received mostly positive feedback from councilmembers and public speakers.
“I urge your support on a ban of the sale of plastic bottles,” said Mary Ciesinski, executive director of the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo. “Invented in 1989, plastic bottles are less than 30 years old. Now, it’s in the top 10 of destructive items in coastal cleanups.”
Ciesinski told the council that plastic bottle pollution is on the rise in SLO County. The number of bottles picked up at the annual Coastal Cleanup Day is up 200 percent since 2011, she said.
Councilmembers had some concerns about the consequences of discouraging a form of water consumption. Staff presented a study from the University of Vermont, a campus that banned plastic water bottles, which showed that people consumed less healthy beverages as a result. In response, the council agreed to include all plastic bottles in the ban—regardless of the liquid inside.
“If we’re going to do this, the last thing we want to do is shift people to soda,” Mayor Heidi Harmon said.
Discussions about a ban on plastic bottles come on the heels of the passage of a citywide ban on expanded polystyrene in 2015. The expanded polystyrene ban applies to the private sector, while the plastic bottle ban would only affect companies or nonprofit organizations doing business on city grounds.