A Difficult Balancing Act: Environmental vs. Human Health
Without a doubt, climate change is going to impact human lives in the (near) future. However, as we take steps to avoid the increase in global temperature by reducing the creation and consumption of plastics, fossil fuels, and other pollutants, we must also avoid burdening the poorest of the population.
This is a difficult paradox for many cities. San Francisco’s recent ban on the sale of plastic water bottles will improve environmental health, but homeless communities may suffer. That’s because, although plastic production causes the release of various greenhouse gases and many plastic bottles aren’t reused or recycled, they are the cheapest and easiest way to distribute water en masse.
Additionally, San Francisco has added a $1,000 fine for those who violate this ban. Water bottle suppliers that assist nonprofits who bulk-purchase these items will have to decide whether they should apply for an exemption certificate. Otherwise, nonprofits will have to import water bottles from other areas.
The city has no plans to subsidize or donate metal water bottles to nonprofits that provide water to members of the homeless community as of yet. Additionally, it has not invested in infrastructure, like water bottle refilling stations in public parks or squares, that would help homeless community members gain access to the free-flowing water.
San Francisco should be commended for taking a step toward a plastic-free future, but without the infrastructure required for easy-access water to underserved communities, the city’s most vulnerable populations will suffer an immediate health crisis, especially as summer encroaches.