Environmentalism has become an increasingly important topic in recent years, which I’d say is a good thing. It’s an area where the United States greatly lags Europe, and it’s terrifying to see just how much plastic and trash we go through in a day.
However, a major airport has just introduced a new policy that will surely be controversial, and might be pushing it a step too far.
LAX bans sale of plastic water bottle
As of June 30, 2023, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. This is the second major airport where we’ve seen a policy like this introduced, as SFO introduced a similar ban in 2019.
This new rule applies to restaurants, cafes, and vending machines. That means those passengers wishing to get a bottle of water will either have to bring their own refillable bottle, or buy a refillable aluminum or glass bottle at the airport.
This ban comes roughly two years after the LA Board of Airport Commissioners voted to phase out single-use plastic bottles at LAX, as part of the airport’s move toward zero-waste in facilities.
To coincide with the introduction of this new ban, the airport has installed 60 new hydration stations throughout LAX’s terminals, to provide passengers with access to extra drinking water.
Here’s how Justin Erbacci, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), describes this change:
“Eliminating single-use plastic water bottles is the right thing to do for our airports, our communities and our environment. We thank L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti for leading the city’s vision for a better, more sustainable future and our Board of Airport Commissioners for taking action to achieve zero waste at our airports by 2045.”
Is this policy change sensible or silly?
It goes without saying that bottled water is incredibly wasteful. But airports are also tricky places in this regard, since you can’t bring your own water. With this change, the “war on airport liquids” has been expanded in a totally different way.
This actually got me thinking about my own situation. At home I don’t use bottled water, and I just drink filtered water. I also have a reusable bottle, and I take that wherever I go when not traveling.
However, I don’t actually take it with me when I travel. I probably should now that I think about it, but I feel like there are a few reasons I don’t:
- I often travel to countries where drinking tap water isn’t a safe option
- For countries where drinking tap water is safe, it’s easy enough to constantly get water without carrying a bottle around
- I do what I can to minimize the amount of stuff I travel with, and this is yet another thing to bring along
- I would keep the reusable bottle in my backpack, but I have anxiety that the bottle will somehow open and spill water on my electronics; I’ve lost multiple laptops due to liquid damage
At the same time, I’m not someone who buys bottled water at airports. I almost always have lounge access, so I’ll just drink water from the coolers they have there. But I also recognize that other people don’t have lounge access, and that’s why I totally get why people buy so much bottled water at airports, and how that might be an issue.
Obviously LAX’s policy change is a push toward encouraging people to bring their own refillable bottles. But otherwise I have some questions:
- Why can establishments sell soda in plastic bottles, but not water? In many cases this will make soda cheaper than water, and may push people toward making less healthy purchases
- Are there no concerns about all the potential broken glass we’ll see from this policy change?
- In this specific situation, is the environment impact actually entirely positive? Glass bottles are significantly heavier than plastic bottles, so emissions are greater for transporting the bottles to the airport, and it will also increase fuel burn on planes if a lot of people bring glass bottles
- I imagine many airport concessions will now sell reusable bottles at a higher cost, though those are really only better for the environment if you actually reuse them frequently, and I imagine many people will just throw them away after one use, since they don’t have a choice of buying a plastic bottle
If the airport really wanted to do what’s best for the environment and for passengers, maybe the airport directly should sell reusable bottles pretty close to cost, which would allow people to stay hydrated at a reasonable cost while caring about the environment.
But I’m sure that would also violate the agreements the airport has with vendors, many of which make a fortune selling a basic human necessity to passengers. So they want to help the environment, but they also don’t want to give up any revenue.
LAX has banned the sale of plastic water bottles. While we can all (hopefully) agree that plastic bottles aren’t good for the environment, I’m not sure the solution is actually a net positive. Yes, in an ideal world we’d all constantly have reusable bottles on us, but in many cases that’s not practical when traveling. Is forcing people to buy glass or reusable bottles (presumably at a higher cost) that might not be recycled or reused actually for the best?
What do you make of LAX’s policy change? Do you travel with a reusable water bottle?