The latest dumb idea from San Francisco – banning plastic water bottles at the airport

San Francisco has most recently been known more for its quality of life problems and lack of affordability than the home of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

You would think that city officials would be doing everything they can to lure both tourists and business travelers back to the City by the Bay.

Apparently, San Francisco’s reputation as being the 4th most expensive city in America, having the world’s 5th-worst traffic congestion, and its out-of-control homeless problem were not enough.  It now wants to start annoying travelers the moment they land in San Francisco.

San Francisco International Airport announced last week that, starting on August 20, the airport’s shops and restaurants may no longer sell plastic water bottles.

In a troubling display of government officials trying to dictate people’s beverage choices, there is even an “SFO approved water bottle list” on the airport’s website, which lists in painful detail the brands and packaging of water that are approved for sale at the airport.

According to the airport, only “reusable water bottles, recyclable aluminum, glass and certified compostable water bottles can instead be provided or sold” after August 20.

Airport spokesman Doug Yakel told the San Francisco Chronicle that, “we’re the first airport that we’re aware of to implement this change.”

Sadly, they’re not the first in California to propose banning plastic bottles.

As our Kerry Jackson wrote earlier this year, California lawmakers “have a new target in California’s war on plastics:  those handy bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion that hotels hand out guests.”  Assembly Bill 1162 would ban those.

Let’s look at the real, practical problems caused by this plan.

The plan has the effect of government picking winners and losers among bottled water producers.  Why is government effectively outlawing the sale of an otherwise-legal product as benign as plastic water bottles?  Californians should have the choice to decide which legal products we buy and consume.  We don’t need government bureaucrats and the airport dictating our bottled water choices.

As a practical matter, travelers can’t take their own water with them into the airport.  No one can bring more than 3 ounces of any one liquid through security under the security initiatives that have been in place at U.S. airports since 9/11.

It could also complicate the loading of airplanes as passengers are already lugging too much onto planes and overhead bin space is at a premium.  Encouraging people to lug large and bulky metal reusable water bottles onto planes will make this problem even worse.

Additionally, this proposal is likely to make airports – which are already a hotbed of germs – even bigger epicenters of illness.  When you drink out of a public water fountain, you never really know how recently or how often they are cleaned.

According to Penn State University, “there are many damaging pathogens that live in water fountains, which cause people to get sick.  E-coli, legionella, and coliform are three types of bacteria found in water fountains.  Drinking water also contains viruses, chemicals, and metals.  These types of bacteria can cause stomach problems and pneumonia-like symptoms such as headaches, vomiting and diarrhea.”

If the goal of San Francisco officials is to cut down on littering and improve plastic recycling rates, then public policy solutions should be aimed there rather than dictating consumer choices. It seems clear that all the fuss from this “only in San Francisco” proposal will be for naught.  As Kerry Jackson noted in a recent City Journal op-ed, “only about 1 percent of all plastic in the oceans is from the U.S.; California’s contribution to the mess is negligible.”

The real mess here will be the hassle felt by travelers in and out of San Francisco airport, who just want a cheap and easy-to-handle bottle of water while traveling.  Apparently, that’s too much to ask when visiting San Francisco.  Meanwhile, the city’s well-deserved reputation as a place not worth the headache of visiting will surely grow because of this ridiculous, virtue-signaling mandate.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top