First off, let’s be clear, I like the environment and want to not only do my part to make sure we have a nice little planet to live on, but also to motivate others. However, the plastic water bottle sales ban at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), taking effect on August 20th, got me thinking. Do these sorts of changes work as well in a “trapped” world, like an airport? I say that since people in an airport do not have as much choice… they mostly can only pick among the options given to them on the airside (after security).
Over the years, airports have grown the choices airside by leaps and bounds. Heck, many airports are more like shopping malls than an airports. But in the end, you are limited. If your local grocery store decides to no longer sell a product and it is super important to you… cool, just go down the street to the next one. At the airport, that is going to be a bit more of an ordeal.
I will say that I was shocked by some of the numbers. On average, SFO sells about 10,000 plastic water bottles per day, and that equals 3,650,000 per year. No question that is A LOT of plastic and even if they are all recycled (saying they are being recycled), it is not a good thing for the environment. It actually makes me pretty sad so many people do not bring their own reusable bottles (my fiancé brings one for both of us and is always reminding me to hydrate). Conversely, that high number of bottles also shows there is A LOT of demand from people to drink water in plastic bottles. Is it fair to require passengers to use other options?
Sure, sure, getting a reusable plastic bottle is not that much to ask, and the airport is providing some other good options, including water in other packaging (like aluminum and glass). But how expensive will those be and how will that impact a family of four on a fixed budget? Will passengers accept the change? Should there be some line of convenience vs doing what’s right, and is this new policy crossing it? Honestly, I don’t know the answers. But let me share with you some of my thoughts and I hope that we have a good conversation in the comments…
First, here is the official write up from the airport:
Airport tenants, vendors, and permittees may not provide or sell bottled water in containers that contain plastic or aseptic paper packaging, including in vending machines. Reusable water bottles, recyclable aluminum, glass and certified compostable water bottles can instead be provided or sold.
Bottled water is defined as drinking water in a sealed box, bag, can, bottle, or other container intended primarily for single-service use and having a capacity of one liter or less. Drinking water includes purified water, mineral water, carbonated or sparkling water, and electrolyte-enhanced water.
SFO has been making positive strides forward with going green this year, and a big cheers to them. Back in March, they started encouraging vendors to use reusable food service ware, and can only give customers one-use items if they are certified compostable (i.e. made with paper, wood, or bamboo). During my recent flight through SFO, I was able to try out some of these and I will say I am not a huge fan of using a paper straw. I actually rather use no straw vs paper, and I guess that is probably the point! I do not think it is that much of a sacrifice for the greater good and I am guessing that most passengers will not even notice or care.
I will say when I was first looking into this, I wasn’t the biggest fan. People are going to notice the change and might care about 10,000 times per day. However, after seeing that SFO is not planning to leave passengers high and dry (man, I love puns), this might not be that bad of a transition and maybe they can pull it off without frustrating too many people. The list above are all the approved water products that vendors can offer — and there are a lot. You will see that they are either made of aluminum or glass. The airport also offers plenty of hydration stations (ie places where you can fill up your own bottle quickly), but hopefully there will be enough with the increased demand.
Maybe part of my hesitation is just being a grumpy old man saying “get off my lawn” (at the age of 38) and having a hard time with change. I am not trying to be that person. I really hope that this ends up working and makes a positive impact with the reduction of plastic. I just know that flying is a pretty stressful experience for most people (even AvGeeks) and trying to get water shouldn’t add to the stress. At the same time, the vendors will also need to make sure the new options remain cost effective. I was told that if the water bottle change is successful, the airport will be looking to also replace other drinks in plastic bottles like soda, teas, and juices (saying options for those products in different containers improve). I truly hope this transition is a success and can spread to other airports. Until then, I will optimistically watch from the sidelines.
What are your thoughts? Do you think this will make too much of a negative impact for travelers or is this all worth the sacrifice for Mother Earth? Leave your thoughts in the comments.