In fall of 2022, the South Lake Tahoe City Council adopted a bold single-use plastic water bottle ban and eliminated exemptions to their foam food container ban. The ban is one of the first of its kind in the country and promises to make a big impact on the waste produced by the city.
Single-use plastics are a significant source of waste and pollution due to the sheer volume of these products and the long amount of time they exist in the environment after their short, useful life ends. Discarded plastics are particularly damaging to water quality as they do not break down or decompose. Expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) quickly breaks apart into tiny pieces that end up washed downstream into waterbodies. The updated ordinance eliminates an exemption for things like foam trays holding raw meat and adds a single-use plastic water bottle ban.
Research performed by scientists at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center recently found plastic in almost every sample taken from beaches around the lake. Because no wastewater is discharged to Lake Tahoe, most of the microplastic waste appears to be coming from plastic litter, especially plastic bottles and bags. Greenhouse gasses are released in the production and distribution of single use plastic water bottles, which could be avoided if people drink tap water instead.
Visitors and businesses can contribute to the stewardship of Lake Tahoe by drinking our excellent local tap water or purchasing more sustainable single-use foodservice ware. The Tahoe Water Suppliers Association, a consortium of local municipal water agencies developed the ‘Drink Tahoe Tap’ marketing campaign to encourage people to embrace the award-winning tap water and ditch the single-use plastic water bottles. The Take Care Tahoe campaign amplifies this message of choosing Tahoe Tap over single-use bottles. Take Care has also partnered with Raley’s to create reusable aluminum water bottles with Drink Tahoe Tap branding.
Recognizing the significant shift this represents, the South Lake Tahoe City Council provided over a year and a half until the single use plastic water bottle ban goes into effect for commercial businesses on Earth Day, April 22, 2024. While it’s true that beverage bottles are highly recyclable, consuming single-use plastics just to feed the recycling stream is not a model sustainability practice. Alternatives to single-use plastic water bottles are readily available in the market, including 100% recyclable aluminum single-use water bottles. “Most people might remember the adage ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.’ Consider that a prioritized list of actions,” said Sustainability Coordinator Sara Letton. “When it comes to sustainability, ‘reduce’ is always the most sustainable choice. Introducing visitors to South Lake Tahoe’s award-winning tap water is one of the many excellent experiences the City hopes to provide its residents and guests.”
In December 2022, the City will kick off outreach efforts in coordination with the League to Save Lake Tahoe and will target restaurants and other retailers to educate and support them through their transition to sourcing more sustainable alternatives for patrons.