Massachusetts Town Bans Plastic Water Bottles

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For many people, a new year means resolutions. And for one Massachusetts town, that means doing away with disposable plastic water bottles.

According to the EPA, in 2010, the U.S. generated 31 million tons of plastic waste. The town of Concord is fighting against those numbers by becoming the first municipality in the nation to ban the sale of single-serving water bottles smaller than 1 liter. Following a vote in April, the town ban went into effect on New Year’s Day.

The bill is largely the result of the hard work of town resident Jean Hill, 84. Back in 2010, she Hill told the New York Times, “I’m going to work until I drop on this.” She added: “If you believe in something, you have to persist and you have to have a thick skin.” Hill spearheaded two previous  — though failed — attempts to ban the bottles before the April measure passed the Town Council. She told the Boston Globe that she was “elated” after the bill passed, noting, “I’m so proud of the town.’”

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The Town of Concord’s website includes the newly enacted bylaw: “It shall be unlawful to sell non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in the Town of Concord on or after January 1, 2013.” Under terms of the ban, stores that violate the ban and sell bottled water will receive a warning on the first offense, a $25 fine for the second, and $50 for each subsequent infraction. The ban would be suspended during emergencies.

Locals who pushed for the idea say the ban will reduce waste and help cut fossil fuel use in bottle production, the AP reports. Not everyone in Concord is happy about the ban, though. Many business owners oppose the ban, saying it restricts freedom of choice. The ban, they add, will have little effect on the environment as consumers will simply drive to neighboring towns to buy their water.

Concord is perhaps best known as the town that jailed writer Henry David Thoreau for 164 years ago after he refused to pay taxes while living at Walden Pond.

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46 comments
pbaileywells
pbaileywells

It is sloppy to state that Concord is "perhaps best known as the town that jailed writer Henry David Thoreau for 164 years ago after he refused to pay taxes while living at Walden Pond".

The American Revolution began here, which is a far more significant piece of civil disobedience than anything Mr. Thoreau did.

gracechiou88
gracechiou88

What if we ban single-serving water bottles and sell water from water fountains in stores?  People could be encouraged to use their containers to drink water.

Adriana
Adriana

Banning the sale of a safe, legal and FDA approved product that is 100% recyclable is the wrong approach to attaining sustainability. All it will do is force bottled water consumers to buy their water outside of town or online which doesn't reduce plastic consumption, all it does is hurt small business owners who last time I checked employed people. Besides, what about emergency preparedness? In emergencies around the world from Hurricanes, to Earthquakes to terrorist attacks; bottled water has saved hundreds of thousands of lives when tap water was not available or contaminated. Just ask Hurricane Sandy victims..Clearly if extremist environmentalists want to ban something, they should find products to ban that we don't need to survive.

Ellen Mary
Ellen Mary

People would drink Tap water if it wasn't full of wretched tasting Chlorine & Fluoride y'all!

Janelle Hampton
Janelle Hampton

Why just water bottles? It'll encourage people to just by sodas.

Joe Flanagan
Joe Flanagan

Had they banned guns, we'd still be British...

Lisbeth Hennessy
Lisbeth Hennessy

How come water sounds like Zach Braff in those Pur commercials?

WhackyWaco
WhackyWaco

Time to start using biodegradable disposable plastic bottles.

HelmyElsaid
HelmyElsaid

Reduce the waste(Judicial case at USA court against Obama,UN,vodafone company-As my documents at:  www.helmyelsaid.blogspot.com)

citizen5645
citizen5645

The problem with trying to solve the plastic bottle issue with deposits on bottles is that bottles are downcycled, not recycled into more plastic bottles. Plastics are recycled into a cheaper, lower grade of plastic, and eventually all end up in the landfill.  People seem to think that recycled plastic is saving it from the landfills. It's just taking a little longer to get there. We need to stop all the useless plastic production. 

youaskedyouknow
youaskedyouknow

If they're going to apply this law for bottled water, it should apply to all drinks, and hopefully business will instead offer an alternative (non-plastic) container for all "bottled" drinks. Some of us quench our thirst with water, instead of with sugary, chemical-infused liquids like colas and "fruit" juice. Glass bottles perhaps? For ALL drinks, though, not just water.

UncleJohn
UncleJohn

I don't buy any size of bottled water (because I'm cheap), but using the law to ban them is excessive.  I like the deposit method others are discussing.  It worked for pop bottles!

rdh
rdh

Germany has solved this problem... every store that sells PET bottles has a recycling machine out front.  Bottles have a deposit on them when purchased.  The machine scans the bar code from the bottle, prepares a receipt that you can redeem at the cash register and then shreds the plastic bottle for easier storage until the recycling truck comes for pickup.  Result:  No bottles in the land fill when you lose 5-15 cents a bottle depending on it's size.

Sultan_C
Sultan_C

I don't know how anyone who has children and/or cares about the quality of their air, water, food and surroundings can feel good about their use of plastics. Plastic doesn't biodegrade, it just accumulates as trash.

PennyFawver
PennyFawver

What is wrong with recycling those single serving bottles and reusable bags? Then it wouldn't end up in the trash to start with. Yes, this is the Government over reaching it power. It is happening everywhere. Oh my god, you can't have an super sized soda in New York City because they have banned that, because we can't help ourselves from drinking to much soda. Really if I couldn't help it I would walk into a store buy a few two liters and just start drinking. You know what. Why don't they ban all fast food places. Close them all. Microwave dinners too. You know why because  then we might start getting pissed and actually run some of these people out of office. 

SamIntuit
SamIntuit

Bans never work out as intended - people will now probably end up buying sugared and caffeinated drinks when they enter the store and are thirsty, or they will pay a little more and buy a one litre bottle creating more waste.  Similarly, the ban on plastic bags in some places results in people buying large numbers of 'reusable' bags that they will never reuse creating much more waste than if they could use a plastic bag. 

Environmental fees are a much better approach.  Charge people an extra $0.25 for each plastic bottle or bag they use (regardless of what is in it) and then use the fee to address the negative environmental issues.  If the state does not have bottle deposits, that would be very valuable to institute as well.  

As a strong environmentalist, I only see bans as necessary for truly toxic goods, other goods should be addressed through environmental fees.  

thompsco
thompsco

The business owners opposed to this are wrong:  people won't drive to a neighboring town to get a small amount of bottled water.  That's not how thirst works.  People will either A) drink out of a water fountain or faucet, or B) Buy a larger size bottle of water and use it for several days or C) fill a reusable bottle with tap water and use that.


Over a few weeks or months, people will migrate to C above.  Which will have exactly the desired effect of reducing waste, saving people money and setting a good example. Tap water is generally *more* healthy than bottled water, so that's a win too. Expect this good work to spread. 

suchismita_p
suchismita_p

I wish more would follow suit. Maybe if individuals  also 'ban' plastic.. in whatever way they can, towns will not have to do it. Doing something like this voluntarily is so much better.

Tacos
Tacos

I'd say Concord is more widely known for being the place where the American Revolution started...

dougalbohn
dougalbohn

The ban is understandable. What I would love to see is more diligent enforcement of litter laws. Consequences of being cited should not be a 'fine'.  Law enforcement needs to stop fleecing the public for money and put violators to work cleaning up the roadways or other forms of community service.

YizeniaDabideen
YizeniaDabideen

We have the exact same system here in Woburn and Burlington, two towns very close to Concord, MA.  It's not even just plastic, it's also for cans and glass.  I've never gone grocery shopping in Concord but I wouldn't be surprised if they have it there too.  So that doesn't seem to be a magic solution.

thompsco
thompsco

The goal in NYC is to make reasonable (more healthy) soda sizes be the default.  Science has found that people consume the default to the last drop (Google for an experiment about soup bowls that refilled from the bottom, for an interesting example).

As NYC Mayor Bloomberg put it, if someone wants still more soda, they can easily buy a second one.  The goal is moderate default behavior to a level that science has proven is healthier.  So if someone wants to be UNhealthy they have the freedom to do so, it will just require a more conscious decision on their part.  

So these laws that nudge us in the right direction have their place (and they work, based on experience in other countries such as Finland).

thompsco
thompsco

@SamIntuit This is a very good idea and one that both conservatives and progressives can happily embrace.  It appeals to the conservative set because it gets closer to the notion of "tax bads, not goods" or "tax consumption of things that are bad, don't tax income." It appeals to the progressive set because it gets closer to the notion of pricing goods and services according to their real cost including externalities, such as downstream impact on other people.

Overall I can't fault the energetic lady of Concord too much, since a community ban of a bad thing is pretty easy to understand. In a more ideal world we'd use the following prioritized approaches to things that data & logic indicate have a harmful impact:

1) Tax them as heavily as needed to make a dent in consumption patterns, while reducing taxes on things that are not bad, to be revenue neutral (BEST)

2) Ban them outright (OK, but people get cranky, and as with 1920s alcohol and current drugs and prostitution, one may just drive some activities into the arms of organized crime ...)

3) Ignore it and let other countries like Denmark and Sweden lead the way in health and human happiness (worst option)

PennyFawver
PennyFawver

@thompsco  ewwwwwwwwwwww at drinking out of a water fountain. Do you know how many germs are on those. Good way to get Mono. However if you are looking for a few sick days go right a head.  And I don't know about your tap water but I know what is in mine. I can't use it for cooking, much less drinking.

DustinDopps
DustinDopps

@thompsco 

You are wrong.  I drive extra to go to a grocery store that uses plastic bags after they were banned in my city.  When the government tries to control human behavior, humans will adapt and find a way to do what they want.

But thanks for playing.

dmgursky
dmgursky

@Tacos Technically, it started a bit earlier.  Something about a confrontation at Lexington Green... ;-)

Jodun
Jodun

@Tacos I just like how the article states "jailed writer Henry David Thoreau for 164 years ago". 164 years in jail seems a rather long sentence, especially given that Thoreau died at the age of 44. Maybe it took them 120 years after he died to actually get around to removing him from his cell?

MaeShirlie
MaeShirlie

@Tacos I would say you are correct.  I was thinking the same thing and thought maybe its because I like history. I also wonder where is Bob Woodward or Dan Rather when you need him when I read some of the articles written on some of these sites or see some of the news reporting on the networks and cable. 

papados
papados

"So if someone wants to be UNhealthy they have the freedom to do so."  Thank you very much for your permission thompco.  What gives you - or the government - the right to decide what is "best" for me and then try to force me to comply with your ideas?  Get out of my face and let me live my life the way I want to.

thompsco
thompsco

Well, that's the idea, really:  we know that there will be some people who "get their panties in a twist" about such things and will stubbornly, pointedly do things to flout a public health or environmental regulation.   It can be a matter of principle or pride I reckon.  So yes, one can drive to another town to get plastic bags for your groceries by default.  Similarly, one can, at great expense, restore a very old car and run it with leaded gasoline, just to smite requirements that cars run unleaded gasoline (it turns out lead in gasoline was even worse than we thought, probably whacking many IQ points off the average for prior generations).

The idea is that if someone  wants to do something that known to be bad if everyone does it, that person still CAN do it..it will just require a deliberate effort, and will not be the default choice for most people.  Sometimes this doesn't work, like Prohibition, or the ill fated "War on Drugs." 


But for most things, like getting the lead out of gasoline, paint, and childrens pencils, or smoking in buildings, or using paper cups instead of styrofoam, or asbestos, or a thousand other little government regulations, the overall effect is positive and nudges society toward healthier defaults.  So don't take it so much as an "Assault on Liberty Centrally Planned by Moscow" and more as making the default world around you healthier and more sustainable.

And you can still, yes indeed, seek out lead to ingest to go along with your bottled water, as you drive a car without seatbelts, at night without headlights on a private road where laws don't apply, while smoking filterless cigarettes, and sucking down a 96 ounce DiabetesBoy giant soda.  It is the land of the free, if you want to make a principled stand.  It will just cost you more than the scientifically based defaults for long term health and sustainability that governments mandate.

satab
satab

@papados 

Some of us obviously don't think about what is best for my community, country...the world. It's all about me, me, me. When you find your own planet papados - you can have your freedom to ruin it...

DustinDopps
DustinDopps

@thompsco 

But that's not what you said.  You said "people won't drive to a neighboring town to get a small amount of bottled water."  You made a blanket statement and I used myself as anecdotal evidence that your blanket statement was wrong.

What is probably more accurate to say is this: liberals and those in large urban environments won't go out of their way to get a small amount of bottled water, but there is a large portion of the population who would, and another segment who wouldn't let a law like this pass in the first place.

Turquoise
Turquoise

@Proponus @Sultan_C @DustinDopps @thompsco  

Plastic trash (and stryofoam) is causing huge damage to wildlife, especially marine mammals and birds. Check out the Pacific Gyre, a swirling mass of plastic that is chocking the animals and releasing a great load of toxins into the oceans as it breaks apart. All the oceans have trash gyres, and they've been growing since they were identified less than 20 years ago.


Humans have only had plastic for a few decades and we're not so stupid that we can't find alternatives. It would selfish and shortsighted to hold on to destructive habits.

Proponus
Proponus

@Sultan_C @DustinDopps @thompsco What the hell difference does it make if we use plastic bags or not?  DO YOU USE RECYCLABLE SHOPPING BAGS FOR YOUR GARBAGE TOO OR HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN GARBAGE BAGS ARE MADE OUT OF EXTRA STRENGTH DURABLE PLASTIC.  Grocery store plastic bags might not be 100% biodegradable, but they do breakdown whereas Hefty most likely will outlive us.

Sultan_C
Sultan_C

@Janet They're only as clean as the owner that handles them. You wash your hands, clothes and fruit, so throw the bags in the wash now and then, especially if you just put in a drippy ribeye. I used to re-use plastic bags for carrying my lunches. Is that different?

Janet
Janet

Wrong.  I won't use those disgusting reusable germ collecting bags.  Give me my plastic bags!  I use them to clean out my kitty box too, so that saves me from buying more plastic to put the poop in!

Sultan_C
Sultan_C

@DustinDopps @thompsco 

You would rather consistently drive to another city, rather than pick up a couple of re-usable bags, and avoid using a single use product that doesn't bio-degrade? You're right, humans will adapt, but I think the typical person will choose to adapt in a much more practical, conscientious way.