BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — City officials may turn off the tap for disposable water bottles at major events such as the National Cherry Festival.
Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes wants the city to ban major festival events from selling or distributing disposable bottles. Instead, he proposes the festivals and their sponsors provide reusable water bottles, and the city would provide free water filling stations.
Estes picks up debris as a volunteer at the National Cherry Festival and said disposable water bottles top the list of discarded items.
"Disposable water bottles are the single greatest component of the trash we have now," Estes said. "I know the festival will lose some revenue potentially, but this is what our community is all about."
Setting up refilling stations would benefit consumers and contribute to reducing waste, Estes said.
"There should be no sin in people bringing their containers of water to the open space and getting them filled," Estes said. "We'd much rather have people drinking water than other substances, so why not encourage it."
City Commissioner Jim Carruthers envisions going one step further, he'd ban disposable water bottles at all city parks and beaches.
"One of the biggest issues in our parks and beaches is water bottle litter," Carruthers said. "Since the state isn't going to require a deposit ... another way to do it is to ban them from our parks."
The city commission will discuss Estes' proposal when it meets in a study session on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.
Estes said he's had nothing but positive responses to his proposal, other than from event promoters and organizers.
"To draw a line in the sand that says no more water bottles is a pretty extreme step," said Trevor Tkach, executive director of the National Cherry Festival. "They've been around long enough that people have grown accustomed to them. It has become a part of our way of doing business."
Bottled water sales reached an all-time high in the United States in 2011, with an average citizen drinking 29.2 gallons of bottled water over the year, the equivalent of 221 half-litre bottles per-person, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. which tracks annual beverage sales nationwide.
Tkach said the festival also provides water bottles to its volunteers, and the hydration factor for volunteers and festival-goers is his major concern. The festival provides recycling stations next to all trash cans.
"We have a pretty extensive recycling program that we've been using for a number of years and we are very proud of the program," Tkach said. "That doesn't mean the people from outside won't bring those bottles in and litter just the same."
Tkach said the festival will remove recycling bins if the city bans bottled water sales.
"I'm not going to be recycling them if I can't sell them," he said.
Recycling bins next to trash cans are extremely important at festivals, but the challenge is getting people to use them, said Kendra Pyle, who coordinates zero-waste festivals for the nonprofit Recycle Ann Arbor.
"Even with good signage people don't pay attention," Pyle said.
Organizers of Ann Arbor's biggest event, the Art Fairs, dropped the sale of disposable bottles in favor of resusable bottles in 2011. The city provides refilling stations that hook to fire hydrants.
Ann Arbor shows it's not an impossible hurdle for festivals to overcome, Pyle said.
"Before the invention of water bottles we still used to have huge events and we managed," Pyle said. "The important thing is to have some way for people to refill water bottles and have reusable water bottles for sale."