Jean Hill and Jill Appel, whose activism led to Concord becoming the first town in the nation to ban single-serve water bottles, were among 11 Massachusetts residents recognized yesterday by the EPA at the 2015 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony.
The environmental leaders were among 27 recipients across New England honored for helping to improve New England’s environment.
Each year, EPA New England recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who have worked to protect or improve the region’s environment in distinct ways. The merit awards, given out since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts.
“In 2009, Jean Hill’s grandson showed her images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a circulating gyre of plastic the size of Texas,” the EPA said in a press release. “Jean’s distress over this fueled her determination to do something, and ultimately led to Concord, Massachusetts, banning the sale of plastic water bottles. This accomplishment, featured in an independent film called the ‘Great Concord Divide,’ passed in 2010, but the state Attorney General threw it out on technical grounds. After that Jean joined with campaign manager Jill Appel and a local attorney, who drafted a bylaw that would pass legal muster.
“The International Bottled Water Association campaigned vigorously against the ban with a website about the benefits of bottled water and warnings of ‘dire consequences’ if the ban passed. The proposed ban was defeated by seven votes in 2011. Appel and Hill, exhausted and disappointed, were determined to try again. They set up a website and Facebook page, developed a tap water map for visitors, and arranged for local businesses to sell reusable bottles. The water bottle industry stepped up its efforts with a phone campaign and mass mailings, but the law passed in 2012 and went into effect January 2013. The industry worked to rescind the ban but two separate repeal votes failed. The ban has been in place for two years, and visitors still visit, businesses still thrive, and there is less bottled water trash on Concord’s roads, thanks to Hill and Appel.”
Said Hill’s son John, “I think the whole town should be proud really. Mom just got the ball rolling.”
This year’s Environmental Merit Awards program was dedicated to Mayor Thomas Menino, who died in 2014 after two decades as Boston’s mayor, and who championed environmental projects in the city he led and loved.
The Environmental Merit Awards, which are given to people who have already taken action, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals.