Concord, Mass: First Town in The Country to Ban The Sale of Bottled Water
Concord residents voted to become the first town in the country to ban the sale of single-serving PET bottled water on Wednesday night.
After close to two hours of debate, Warrant Article 32, the Drinking Water in Single-Serving PET Bottles Bylaw, passed by 39 votes during Town Meeting’s third session.
The official teller count was 403-364.
“I am so relieved and I am so tired,” said Jean Hill, lead citizen petitioner for Article 32, after Town Meeting adjourned April 25. “Without Jill Appel’s help I couldn’t have done it.”
“It was a real team effort,” said Appel, who managed Hill’s campaign, amidst hugs and handshakes.
The bottled water bylaw passed at this year’s Town Meeting bans the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in Concord on or after Jan. 1, 2013. It provides for an exemption in the case of emergencies and allows for a process to suspend the bylaw if necessary. Establishments found in violation would receive a warning for the first offense, a $25 fine for the second offense and a $50 fine for the third and each subsequent offense.
Proponents said the ban would help reduce the amount of plastic waste and would send a message that public water sources need to be supported.
“Bottled water is part of a growing trend of putting public water resources into private hands,” Appel said during her presentation.
They also cited health risks regarding the quality of the water bottled, as well as the bottle it comes in. While Concord’s tap water is continually tested, Appel said most bottled water companies don’t publish their test results. She also cited growing concerns of toxic chemicals leaching from plastic that contains PET.
Those who opposed the bylaw said it denies residents their freedom of choice and also could be harmful to Concord’s retail stores, which potentially could lose business if forced to remove bottled water from their shelves.
Jim Crosby, owner of Crosby’s Supermarkets, one of two non-residents allowed to make a presentation to Town Meeting, used his time to show the multitude of products made in part from recycled water bottles. Among them were North Face and Patagonia jackets, carpeting, and wall coverings for cubicles.
“Fifty percent of the products we sell in the store are packaged with plastic,” he said, adding the town’s energies would be better spent encouraging recycling and education. “Plastic’s not going away.”
The other non-resident who spoke before Town Meeting was Huw Kingston of Bundanoon, Australia, which three years ago became the first town in Australia to ban the sale of bottled water. Kingston said Bundanoon worked to replace bottled water with refillable bottles on store shelves, and built more water fountains around town.
In Concord’s case, Appel said Atlas Watersystems, which is already used in Emerson Hospital, 80 Thoreau, and Starbucks, has offered to provide free consultations. She also said Camelbak has agreed to donate 2,000 reusable bottles of various shapes and sizes, including kids’ bottles, to the bottled water bylaw campaign for distribution among Concord’s businesses. Appel said Camelbak’s donation has a retail value of about $40,000.
Kingston estimated the historic vote, which garnered the Australian town international media attention, also earned the town an about $10 million in publicity.
On Wednesday night, many lined up behind the pro and con microphones in the auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium to speak for and against the proposal. Among them was Adriana Cohen, who has been an outspoken opponent of the ban.
“America is a democracy based on freedom. It is not a dictatorship,” said Cohen, who said the bylaw infringed upon residents’ personal liberties, as well as freedom of commerce. “This reminds me of a communist country.”
Michael Goodwin, a teacher at CCHS, said if the gymnasium was filled with high school students, the bylaw would overwhelmingly pass.
“They know what’s right for them in moving ahead,” he said. “We can be forward thinking in this if we choose.”
Two residents proposed amendments to the bylaw, one of which would limit the bylaw to retail establishments except for Crosby’s Supermarket and the West Concord Supermarket. The other would have also exempted Emerson Hospital and its affiliates. Both amendments failed.
“The more we carve out these exceptions without a clear rational relationship to the underlining purpose … the more it opens us up to an equal protection challenge,” said town counsel Bill Lahey as the amendments were under debate.
The bylaw has been a long time coming for Hill, who originally brought forth a petition to ban bottled water in Concord in 2010. That petition also passed, but was unenforceable as it was written as a resolution instead of a bylaw. Appel worked with Hill to create a more detailed bylaw banning the sale of bottled water for the 2011 Town Meeting, but it failed to pass by seven votes.
Like all other bylaws passed at Town Meeting, the bottled water bylaw now goes to the Attorney General’s office for review. In his report on the article on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, Selectman Jeff Wieand said the board feels the Attorney General’s office will approve the bylaw in its present form, although he speculated it would open the town up to a host of lawsuits, especially from the bottled water industry.
“The cost of litigation is likely to be substantial,” he said. “Can town afford litigation? Probably, though sacrifices small or large will be required.”
In her presentation, Appel said pro bono legal support was available to defend the bylaw once enacted.
[via Wicked Local Concord]