Illustration by Jamie Morton.

Over 2 million plastic beverage bottles are used in the United States every five minutes, according to Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Growing concerns for the environmental impact of rapidly-accumulated rubbish have prompted a new Santa Cruz City Council policy. On Oct. 11, the city council prohibited the city of Santa Cruz purchasing single-use bottled water for city offices in a 6-0 vote.

Vice Mayor Don Lane said during the meeting that the policy is “a small step within a city framework to make sure we are not unnecessarily creating plastic waste in our community.”

Reducing plastic waste and implementing policies to achieve this are important to many people in the Santa Cruz community.

Local conservation organization Save our Shores and Santa Cruz’s Waste Reduction staff prioritized informing the community about the inefficiency and environmental concerns associated with single-use plastic bottles.

“I brought this issue up because I shared their concern and hated to see our city money being used for something that could be so harmful,” Lane said.

The policy states no city funds will be used in order to purchase plastic bottles and will be regulated by the city’s finance department.

Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores (SOS), a non-profit organization that cares for and advocates on behalf of the Monterey Marine Sanctuary, spoke at the meeting. She thanked the city of Santa Cruz for trailblazing in banning plastic bottles from city offices.

“That is a great step that [the city] is taking,” Kasa said.

SOS coordinates inland and beach cleanups in the Santa Cruz area, and Kasa attributes the merit of the city’s move to the demographics of the trash items they collect.

“In just the past two years we have collected over 8,000 plastic bottles, many of those water bottles,” Kasa said. “We’ve found that 72 percent of everything we’re picking up is plastic, so this is really taking a right step toward this effort.”

Kasa hopes this policy will motivate people in changing their lifestyles and make a connection to how sustainability plays a large role in our lives.

Another advocacy group working towards removing plastic bottles is Take Back the Tap (TBTT), an on-campus organization focused on ending the sale of single-use plastic water bottles at UCSC by Earth Day 2012. TBTT has worked with three different units — dining services, third-party vendors, and student organizations — to make all of this possible.

TBTT member Gabi Kirk stressed that the privatization of the UC system raises the same issue as the commodification of water.

“We’re seeing an increasing privatization of the university and that actually ties really strongly into water,” Kirk said. “Bottled water takes a public good that everyone needs to survive, turns it into a consumer good and jacks up the price.”

Vice Mayor Lane said it is important Santa Cruzans think about their plastic consumption and drink tap water instead of bottled.

City Council members and other community affiliates hope this policy illustrates the city’s effort to embrace the concept of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and shift away from the use-and-toss mentality. Lane said it is a small step that can make a big difference for Santa Cruz and cities who may follow suit.

Kirk is ready to push for more universities to adopt policies that address plastic consumption.

“Even when we declare victory the campaign won’t be over,” Kirk said. “We’re launching a statewide organizing website and connecting to students at other California universities to learn from their campaigns and teach them about what we’re doing.”