San Francisco airport bans plastic water bottles — what all travelers need to know

The bottle ban comes as other large companies and airlines make eco-friendly changes.
San Francisco International Airport is banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. The unprecedented move at one of the major airports in the country will take effect August 20.
San Francisco International Airport is banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. The unprecedented move at one of the major airports in the country will take effect August 20.Eric Risberg / AP

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/ Source: TODAY
By Erica Chayes Wida

Passengers flying through San Francisco International Airport (SFO) will no longer be able to buy plastic bottles of water starting Tuesday.

The airport's new rule will prohibit every on-site restaurant, cafe and vending machine from selling single-use plastic water bottles. But don't worry trendy sparkling water fans, flavored waters are excluded from the ban.

The eco-friendly move is part of a larger attempt to lower net carbon emissions and energy use throughout the state, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2014, San Francisco approved an ordinance that banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles on properties owned by the city. Since SFO is a department of the municipal government, this change is really just the airport following orders. But since purchasing water bottles to stay hydrated is (for many travelers) a very routine part of taking a trip, it's a big one.

“We’re the first airport that we’re aware of to implement this change,” SFO spokesman Doug Yakel told the Chronicle. “We’re on the leading edge for the industry, and we want to push the boundaries of sustainability initiatives.”

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Airport vendors stopped selling single-use plastic water bottles on or before August 20, so before heading to San Francisco, just remember to bring your own reusable bottle or buy an airport-approved glass or aluminum water bottle.

Currently, there are over 100 water fountains throughout the airport where people are able to refill their own bottles. According to the Chronicle, more filling stations are "on the way," but the airport has not specified a timeline for when they will be rolled out.

So could a single-use bottle ban be coming to your local airport?

A spokesperson at the FAA told TODAY Food that since some airports are owned by cities, some by counties, some by states and others by separate airport authorities, it can be difficult to determine which jurisdiction's regulations will affect local airports. So if consumers are unsure, it's best to consult each airport to see how it is required to comply with local laws regarding plastic.

For example in 2018, when the city of Seattle banned plastic straws and utensils, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (which is owned and operated by the government agency Port of Seattle) also prohibited the use of single-use plastics in its eateries. But not every city-airport duo will follow the same set of rules, so if you're not sure, just ask.

SFO eateries have already been switching over to using food packaging that is easily compostable, from to-go containers and utensils, to condiment packets and straws.

And many airport vendors have already begun phasing out traditional plastic water bottles for glass or aluminum types, which are becoming more accessible with new designs from companies like Aquafina.

SFO is not the first major travel business to launch a major eco-friendly initiative. In May 2018, Alaska Airlines announced it would be replacing all plastic straws on board with "marine-friendly stir sticks."

Last year, American Airlines announced it would be eliminating plastic straws in its lounges and on flights. Though the airline did not give a timeline for when all plastics would be phased out, it said that its new plan would help the airline save "71,000 pounds of plastic per year."

Another airport staple — Starbucks — also made a promise to ditch plastic straws in all of its stores (including those in airports) by 2020.

With summer travel season still in full swing, it's probably a good idea to start searching for a great reusable bottle to stay hydrated on the road.