Traveling to This Airport? Bring Your Own Water Bottle.

The ban applies only to unflavored water drinks and does not include sodas, juices or teas.

The ban applies only to unflavored water drinks and does not include sodas, juices or teas. Shutterstock


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San Francisco International Airport banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles as part of a larger goal to become zero-waste by 2021.

Travelers passing through San Francisco can add a new item to their packing lists: a reusable water bottle.

As of Tuesday, San Francisco International Airport became the first airport in the country to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles, the latest step in the facility’s larger goal to generate zero waste by 2021. Thirsty travelers passing through the terminal will have to drink water from a fountain, fill their own reusable bottle or purchase a metal or glass one from an airport vendor.

Airport officials define bottled water as drinking water (mineral water, purified water, unflavored carbonated water, sparkling water and unflavored electrolyte-enhanced water) in a “sealed box, bag, can, bottle or other container intended mainly for single-service use and having a capacity of 1 liter or less.”

The change, which affects stores, lounges, restaurants and vending machines, will be phased in gradually as vendors sell off their remaining stores of plastic bottles. Bottled water will still be available after that, though only from brands on a pre-approved list that are sold in “a variety of reusable and recyclable single or multi-use aluminum and glass containers,” according to the airport’s website. Customers can refill those containers at free hydration stations, located in every terminal.

The ban could have a relatively large impact, as roughly 4 million water bottles were sold at the airport last year. But it doesn’t apply to every plastic bottle—the ban exempts flavored drinks, including waters, sodas, teas and juices, as well as all beverages served on planes.

The policy stems from a city-wide plastic-bottle ban passed by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 2014. The ordinance prohibits the sale of water in bottles 21 ounces or smaller on city property, with exemptions in place for sporting events.

Other cities have also passed bans on single-use plastic bottles. At least four municipalities in Massachusetts prohibit the sale of plastic water bottles, and one—the town of West Tisbury—bans all plastic bottles, including those containing soda and juice. That ban is thought to be the first of its kind in the country, the Vineyard Conservation Society told the MV Times.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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