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Massachusetts Municipality Is First In U.S. to Ban Sale of Water In Personal Size Plastic Bottles

Making history and creating new controversy, in the town of Concord, Mass. a ban on the sale of water in personal size plastic bottles has taken effect, and officials have begun enforcement.

Jean Hill, a Concord resident in her eighties who petitioned for the bylaw, told Wicked Local Concord that her primary concern throughout the process was for the environment. She told the publication that she “believes even with recycling that plastic water bottles harm the environment by using fossil fuels and producing excess carbon dioxide emissions.”

The Center for Microbial Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa says that it takes about 100 years for a plastic bottle to biodegrade and the problem is huge.

The Ban the Bottle campaign further adds that, “Last year, the average American used 167 disposable water bottles, but only recycled 38, and that overall, “Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added more broadly that, “Of the 30.7 million tons of plastic generated in 2007, only 2.09 million tons or less than seven percent were recycled.”

To address these issues in its own small way, the Concord bylaw specifically prohibits the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water contained in 1 liter (34 ounce) or less sized self-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.

The bylaw also prohibiting the sale several brands of non-sparkling water in PET plastic bottles if they contain electrolytes and/or minerals, but no flavoring. These brands include O Water and Smart Water. If these drinks do contain flavoring, then the prohibition doesn’t apply regardless of the size or material of the bottle.

The bottles made of PET have the number 1 and/or PETE with the recycling symbol on the bottle. Only bottles made from PET are being prohibited from being sold. The sale of water in bottles made from other types of plastics will continue to be allowed.

Also as an exemption to this bylaw, water sold in bottles made of PET plastic will be allowed during declarations of an emergency.

In addition, excluded from the bylaw are the sales of juice beverages, flavored waters, and sparkling waters sold in any size and in any type of plastic bottle, including PET. Today, most beverages are sold in clear bottles made of PET plastic.

Beverages that can be sold in the town that are contained in PET plastic bottles include flavored waters such as Vitaminwater, sports drinks like Gatorade, energy drinks, seltzers, sodas, juices, artificially-flavored beverages, and tea bottles.

There has been a lot of controversy in the town over the new bylaw. While most have been in favor, some residents have seen it as a violation of their right to free choice, while others are worried about the effect it will have on commerce.

Adriana Cohen, a Concord resident and vocal opponent of the ban, told Wicked Local Concord, “Many Concord residents, business owners, and physicians are against this overreaching ban.”

“Local government and special interest groups should not be dictating to residents what they can eat, drink, and buy. Those are civil liberties that should not be encroached. Especially in a free-market economy driven by consumer choice,” she added.

Cohen wants to try and find a way to get the ban rescinded, and plans the bringing the issue up again either at a special town meeting or at the town meeting next year.

Businesses in the town are worried about loss of income. WHDH reported that some businesses are also working around the bylaw by selling larger bottles, since the rule only focuses on smaller ones.

The Huffington Post reported local resident Jenny Fioretti’s concern that, “Towns are close enough that people can walk two minutes and go get [bottled water] from Acton or Bedford. It doesn’t really help, I don’t think.”

The new bylaw doesn’t legally interfere with any state or federal laws, including interstate commerce regulations, so it was approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

The bylaw will be enforced by the town’s health division, which has already begun inspecting retail stores, restaurants, and other venues that are likely to be selling bottled beverages.

The town explains that if a violation is found on first inspection, a warning will be issued. Re-inspection will occur within a week, and if a second violation occurs, the penalty will be $25. The third and each subsequent violation will cost $50 each. Any person that wants to contest a violation will have 21 days to file a written request for a hearing at the district court.


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