Bye-bye bottles: Crushing plastic water bottle use

Plastic bottle found on the shore of Lake Tahoe. | Keep Tahoe Blue

Walking along Donner Lake, I find an empty plastic water bottle half buried in the shore, a plastic bag from a local store and an old to-go container from a restaurant. I pick the items upand walk it to the nearest trash can, often my own. It feels like an endless task.

To-go containers and single-use plastic bottles litter the region. In the Tahoe Sierra, local governments are working to reduce the amount of waste by targeting single-use plastic bottles, and plastic and Styrofoam to-go containers, all of which contribute to microplastic pollution.

Plastic bottle, Styrofoam bans
South Lake Tahoe has led the way with a polystyrene (Styrofoam) ban that went fully into effect in 2023. A citywide ban on single-use plastic water bottles will go into effect this year for all commercial vendors on Earth Day on April 22.

“We’re very excited for the City’s single-use plastic water bottle ban to come into force this Earth Day,” stated Chris Joseph of the League to Save Lake Tahoe in an email to Tahoe Guide. “We advocated for the ordinance using a decade’s worth of our litter cleanup data to show that plastic bottles are some of the most commonly littered items on Tahoe’s beaches. Preventing the sale of single-use plastic water bottles will help stop litter at the source.”

The Town of Truckee also banned Styrofoam in 2023 and the town’s new single-use food ordinance went into effect on Jan. 1. Food vendors must charge a $0.25 customer fee for each disposable cup and takeout container and provide reusable foodware for customers dining in. Single-use accessories like utensils, straws and condiment packets can be provided only upon a customer’s request.

The Town of Truckee has also passed a single-use plastic bottle and paper carton ordinance that goes into effect on Earth Day in April 2025.

Drink Tahoe Tap
In an effort to get everyone to stop purchasing single-use plastic water bottles, several Raley’s grocery stores in the area have partnered with Tahoe Environmental Research Center and Take Care Tahoe to sell reusable metal water bottles that feature Drink Tahoe Tap and plastic-free messaging. As well, Take Tahoe Care has a list of free water refill stations available at takecaretahoe.org/water-stations.

The danger of microplastics
Studies have found that harmful microplastics are lurking in Lake Tahoe and other bodies of water in the region. Plastics enter the environment when plastic bottles and bags, cigarette butts, cosmetics, clothing and industrial products break down into small fragments. Research has shown that microplastics leech dangerous chemicals and end up in the soil, drinking water and food chain.


 

Tips for reducing waste

  • Prevent litter before it starts by choosing reusable containers, utensils, straws, coffee mugs and bottles.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle. Water bottles can be refilled at water stations throughout Tahoe. Find refill stations at takecaretahoe.org/water-stations.
  • Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store.
  • Bring reusable containers and ask if restaurants will accept them.
  • Purchase green to-go boxes to use and exchange at participating Truckee locations.
  • Say no to single-use items like plastic bottles, cups and straws.
  • Pack it in. Pack it Out: Don’t leave trash anywhere.
  • Compost at locations in South Tahoe and Truckee.
  • Know what can be recycled in your trash and recycle.
  • Reuse, repurpose and repair items. Reduce your carbon footprint.

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