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David Scribner
Monument students Olivia Jaffe, Grace Phair and Carly Terranova make a PowerPoint presentation in support of the ban they were proposing on single-use plastic water bottles.

NEWS ANALYSIS: In a matter of minutes, plastic water bottle ban rode a giant wave

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By Tuesday, May 8, 2018 News 28

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to reflect the correct date on which the new bylaw will take effect.

Great Barrington — It was like few other phenomena this reporter has seen in more than 10 years of covering New England town meetings.

Most observers I spoke to before last night’s meeting thought it was unlikely a proposed ban on single-use plastic water bottles would pass. Merchants were worried about the impact on their businesses. Even progressive lion Ed Abrahams, who, with the retirement of Sean Stanton, is likely to become chairman of the selectboard in a few short days, wasn’t sure it was the right time.

“We should all use less plastic, we should all create less trash, but I agree with Mr. Moro,” Abrahams said in response to a letter of opposition in The Edge from Andy Moro, who chairs the Great Barrington Republican Town Committee. “This proposal is the right sentiment, but going about it the wrong way.”

Monument students Carly Terranova, Grace Phair and Olivia Jaffe captured the audience’s attention while speaking in support of the plastic bottle ban at Great Barrington’s town meeting Monday night. Photo: David Scribner

But what started off as a civic exercise — educating the public about the plastic menace — turned into a lesson in how a righteous cause can gather steam, convince fence-sitters, transition to a generational issue and overwhelm the opposition in the Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium.

Such was the case last night, as one speaker after another waxed eloquent about the harm plastic debris is doing to the environment and the presumed ease of shifting to a different model of portable water consumption: reusable steel or glass containers easily refilled at water stations throughout town and elsewhere.

There was a heartfelt presentation by three young women: Carly Terranova, Olivia Jaffe and Grace Phair — Monument students all — who had worked with the environment committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group to gather signatures for the petition, perform research, make the case for the proposal and package it in a marketable PowerPoint presentation.

See video below of the presentation, debate and vote on Citizens’ Petition, Article 22:

 

“Our generation is fed up with the pollution and toxicity we have inherited,” Jaffe said without sounding terribly self-righteous. “We want change.”

“We have real concerns about the bottled water industry.” Phair added. “Too much fossil fuel is used to create bottled water.”

Jaffe asserted that consumers will also save money by abandoning bottled water, insisting that, “We are proposing an exciting vision.”

Moro applauded the initiative of the three students but insisted the ban, which will take effect May 1, 2019, would hurt retailers and small-business people who, after all, “are the ones that employ us, our children and us older people. It turns the burden right on them.”

Supporters of the measure had lined up more than 40 organizations who endorsed the ban. Photo: David Scribner

To much laughter and scattered applause, Moro also noted the irony of the single-use plastic Polar water bottles sitting on the stage table in front of each selectmen and the members of the finance committee. 

“Next year all these bottles up on that stage are going to be eliminated,” cracked Moro, who suggested greater recycling efforts instead of a ban.

 

Selectboard chair Sean Stanton brought his own glass water bottle; the table had been provided with single-use plastic bottles. Photo: David Scribner

Addressing the proposal’s opponents who insist that increased recycling is the answer, Terranova said, “Recycling is not the answer.” 

In 2016, she said, the Environmental Protection Agency reported only 31 percent of our PET plastics, the kind used for water bottles, was recycled. China previously took most of our recyclable plastics but no longer accepts them, according to a report in the New York Times.

After Moro, one speaker after another spoke of the value of the proposal. Ben Barrett described himself as a small-businessman with “a laissez faire” approach to regulation but he conceded, “It’s time to rethink our approach to plastic.”  

Entrepreneur Anni Crofut spoke of an opportunity to “rebrand ourselves as visionary enterprises that offer sustainable alternatives.” Architect Steve McAllister said he is not the kind of person to jump on every “bandwagon” but the view of the Housatonic River from his Bridge Street office had an impact on his thinking. 

Far fewer voters remained when the vote was taken near the end of the meeting than at the beginning. Photo: David Scribner

“What convinced me of the problem is being able to see the trash in that river,” McAllister said. 

Dale Abrams, vice president of the Great Barrington Land Conservancy’s board of directors, also went after the corporations: “The honest truth is we’ve been sold a bill of goods by the likes of Nestle and Coca Cola. Almost every one of us in this room grew up without the need for disposable water bottles. Let’s make the change here now!”

John and Diane Tracy, who own Gorham & Norton, told the Edge they sell 30 cases a week of Poland Spring during the summer. They opposed the proposal, but sat stony-faced and silent as the momentum built.

Great Barrington businessman Terry Flynn introduced an amendment to the proposal that would, among other things, exempt police, firefighters and EMS first responders from the ban. It passed overwhelmingly.

At the beginning of the meeting, town clerk Marie Ryan said about 400 people were in the auditorium. When the proposal came up for a vote, near the end of the almost-four-hour meeting, it looked like only half remained. 

In the end, by a substantial margin, more voters held up their cards in the affirmative. Photo: David Scribner

After a discussion of about 12 minutes, a call for a vote came from someone in the audience. That call effectively prevented Railroad Street resident Steve Farina, a critic of the ban, from speaking out against it—a move that elicited mild cheers.

“I am not sure how anyone wins when a known voice of dissent is silenced using a cheap parliamentary trick,” Farina later told the Edge. “Silenced from bringing clarity and truth to the information presented by a group of supporters … Sadly, some of the cheering was clearly because my position was not allowed to be presented.” 

Town moderator Michael Wise determined that a secret ballot was not necessary. A show of hands revealed the measure passed by a ratio of about 2-1. And that was it. 

Business woman Jenny Clark, who worked tirelessly on the ban, was elated at the outcome. So were other members of the environment committee of BWAG. Clark said she has a friend who brought two other friends to the town meeting. All three were skeptics but later told Clark they were convinced of the worthiness of the bylaw. 

“This comment validated the long hours, the many merchant visits we made, the research we did, the endless emails and editing of our PowerPoint show, and the great opportunity we had working with three brilliant high school girls,” Clark told the Edge this morning.

Town moderator Michael Wise ruled that a secret ballot was not necessary. Photo: David Scribner

Edge reader Joseph Method said he “went into the meeting thinking I was going to vote against the bylaw. The presentation and the discussion actually changed my vote. I was also swayed by the fact that the selectboard and finance committee all had single-use water bottles in front of them. It ended up being a good visual demonstration of how easy it is to slip into a destructive behavior.” 

“We’re so proud of this community that stood up last night and did the right thing,” added Marcia Arland, an Egremont resident who is a member of the BWAG environment panel. “We’re impressed with this community and happy to be a part of a place that can make a difficult choice in this polarized political climate.” 

Brad Verter, founder of the Mass Green Network, whose members have passed dozens of bag and Styrofoam bans over the past two and a half years, told the Edge that Great Barrington’s bylaw “paves the way for more local laws to reduce waste from bottled water.”

“When we started in 2015, there were only 16 bag laws,” Verter said. “Today there are 73, and we are close to passing a statewide bill. Thanks to Jen and her colleagues in Great Barrington, we are looking to build the same sort of momentum with bottled water.” 

So there you have it. An issue that didn’t really seem to be catching on saw a wave and rode it onto the beach as its opponents watched in awe of its near-perfect performance. Much to their credit, the victorious surfers aren’t gloating.


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28 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Marc says:

    I believe when the vote was taken for discussion to end about the water bottles, it was the only time done so in the meeting. It was obvious the moderator didn’t want Steve Farina to talk. I wonder how this would have turned out if it was on the ballot. People tend to follow the crowd when in public.

    1. Tom Blauvelt says:

      Hi Marc,
      There was one other warrant article where the voters asked to call the question.

    2. Michael Wise says:

      Since the comment mentions me specifically, I think I’d better respond. The motion to call the question on this item was in order, and I couldn’t ignore it, since I had just acknowledged the person seated on the stage who had tried to make it as someone at the microphone in the hall had been recognized to speak. That person then completed her statement. When that was followed by the motion to call the question, only one speaker had opposed the main motion, and I could see about a half dozen people still lined up to speak. But the rules we follow say that a motion to call the question is not itself debatable. It does require a 2/3 vote, and that majority to end debate was obvious: only a couple of dozen flags were raised in opposition to it. I appreciate that people are frustrated that they didn’t get to say their piece. Speaking purely personally, I would have preferred that the meeting hear a few more speakers — including Steve. But the moderator has to manage the meeting according to the rules, not personal preferences.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Than you for clarifying this Mike. I knew the protocol and was aware it was not a personal issue. I don’t envy the responsibility you have in conducting such a large and important meeting. You once again did a wonderful job overall. If any of my comments appear snarky towards you, I apologize. It was a frustrating situation for me, and I am trying to be sure to stick to the issue and not attack anyone personally.

  2. Steve Farina says:

    Ironically, the plastic Dasani water bottle used in the slide presentation (the slide depicting the cost of bottled water) is NOT BANNED under this new bylaw. Dasani packaging states, “minerals added for taste”, therefore it is a flavored water. This ban effectively eliminates the competition in the bottled water market on behalf of the Coca-Cola Corp – including locally sourced and bottled Berkshire Mountain Spring Water.
    This bylaw will have additional consequences, which I was prevented from sharing. This bylaw will have little to no impact on what it aims to accomplish.
    Had I not been prevented from sharing, the outcome may have been different, as the FACTS I was prepared to present would have been like a breaker for the emotional wave of support garnered by the effective marketing presentation put before the voters.
    By the way, anyone want to take a guess at how many of those 40 businesses actually SELL bottled water? How about, how many are the same person? How about, how many are not even “local businesses ” ?
    At the beginning of the meeting the moderator, Mike Wise, read a statement. I seem to recall part of it being about hearing the various sides of an issue, having different opinions, yet realizing g we are all still neighbors and friends (I paraphrase).
    It is unfortunate that some felt the need to silence dissent on this issue. The call to question timing was a cop out. That is what you heard me say at the microphone – asking people not to cop out on voting to end the discussion.
    I suspect there will be legal ramifications to the town in regard to the ban and that this will end up in court. We will see.

    1. John says:

      Agreed Steve. Simply a feel good bylaw, that is dysfunctional. All too often anymore, special interest groups poison the well with a narrow agenda.
      While nobody wants to trash the environment, the real solution lies in education not mindless legislation.
      The net effect with this bylaw is no change to the environment, a burden to local business, Increased bottled water sales in adjacent towns, and tax dollars that could be used for schools get spent on lawyers and compliance.
      Another feelgood bylaw that missed the point.

    2. Cynthia LaPier says:

      Just want to share some facts about bottled water. Bottled still water comes either straight from a spring, or is purified. Dasani’s regular water (as well as Nestle, Aquafina, Kirkland and many others) is purified, which means it has undergone one or more specialized treatment processes like distillation, reverse osmosis, or de-ionization. Inorganic salts that are present in all untreated water are often removed in the process. These salts, like magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate, and calcium chloride are part of what gives water its taste. Consumers like their water to taste like water, so these companies add the minerals back in. This is not considered “flavored water” like water that has added essence of blackberry for example. When bottled water companies add minerals back into purified water they are essentially making it more like tap water which is why the single use plastic water ban initiative is focusing on it – it is easily found for free and able to be bottled by consumers with reusable containers.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Sorry Cynthia, there is NO definition of “flavored” in this bylaw. Therefore, any thing done to change the taste, and labeled as such, is flavored. Is the Town willing to go to court on this?

  3. Jim Hall says:

    Our kids are showing us the way.

  4. Gene says:

    It was a fascinating, well-executed, cleverly manipulative presentation at town meeting. Nobody wants to say “no” to high school students who care enough to actually show up at a town meeting. And nobody would argue that plastic bottles are hurting our environment. But In my opinion, there is another/far better way to get most, if not all plastic bottles from being discarded into the environment. Follow Connecticut’s example which places a five-cent returnable fee on these water bottles. Great Barrington’s ban of one type of bottle hurts business, hurts manufacturing jobs, and takes money out of our local economy. Five-cent returnable fees work effectively to prevent litter, keeps manufacturing jobs (such as the plastic bottling company in Pittsfield), and keeps money in our local economy. The students and organizers deserve a lot of credit for their determination. I certainly didn’t want to risk the wrath of a sympathetic crowd by arguing against them (so I kept my mouth shut), but I think their effort would have been much more useful in the long run if it was directed toward creating state-wide five-cent returnables for ALL plastic bottles.

    1. Jennifer Clark says:

      Are you aware of the effort to place a surcharge on water bottles in 2014 in MA? The voters turned it down. Are you aware that only 20-30% of our PET plastic recyclable gets recycled? Recycling is not the answer to plastic pollution in waterways and landfills. Pittsfield’s bottling plant is a closed loop, and does not involve products other than their own. For the rest of the single-use plastic universe, the first step is to reduce consumption.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Are you aware that Switzerland recycles at a rate of 81%, Japan at 72%, and even Europe comes in at 48%?
        With proper education, recycling does work.
        Are you aware that China stopped taking our recyclables because of contamination. That is non-recyclables being put in with recyclables. Now you want to add another “bin” for compostable cups and expect people to suddenly figure out how to separate yet another item?
        Are you aware that the bottles you have banned are one of the most readily recyclable plastics that are both easily identifiable to people and can be recycled multiple times (you had it right the 1st time in calling them single serving, they actually are not single use, as your amended version states)?
        Are you aware of the negative impact on recycling rates which have occurred in Concord in subsequent years to their “bottle ban”?
        Are you aware that these and other facts were left out of your presentation?
        Perhaps next year we can dress 3rd graders up as sea turtles and have them read our presentations….

  5. Richard Allen says:

    Unfortunately our kids are often being fed policy positions and dogma, not sober facts, by young teachers who have themselves been indoctrinated.

    1. John says:

      Aren’t these the same “educators” who removed the trades education from the schools? The old saying remains more than ever, those that can’t do, teach.

  6. Karen W. Smith says:

    The call to question was used once before in the meeting for the record. If you want to play in the big girl games you gotta play with the big girl pains boys! I like be how the commenters use the excuses like “ the kids are filled with blah blah.NO THEY ARE NOT THEY ARE NOT! THEY ARE BRIGHT ,ENGAGED, WELL RESEARCHED etc and the way it was presented was brilliant and the work put in to accomplish the goal was worth it. Another “oh my if I had gotten to speak , it could have been different”. Baloney, do some work on something before opening your mouth in a negative fashion all the time. Another, I did not want to incur the wrath of the crowd…WHAT are you kidding me? I can’t say what I am thinking however grow a set. Were the girls going to beat you up? There were 3 officers there with guns and pepper spray. Also now the next step is to put .05 deposit on everything else stay tuned
    Admit it ….it is time and the town meeting is what separates the boys from the men. Please excuse the irony .

    It is not perfect but credit must be given to the organizers to start the process.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Karen, had I expected something other than neighborly participation I would have shown up to play political games. This is the most fool hearty bylaw I have ever seen.
      My resume was not on the agenda, I would be happy to share it with you personally if it would make you feel better about my qualifications to talk on the subject.
      Tell me, who pays for the receptacles to be places around town for the compostable cups? Who teaches the public what goes in which of the now 3 bins needed around town?
      Why did China stop accepting our recyclables? … oh yeah, because we can’t figure out how to separate the few things we have already! Talk about being well researched…but we’ll add that other bin to make ourselves feel better.
      So where exactly are the emergency responders going to use their exception and buy bottled water? There will not be any store in town selling them!
      Do I need to go on with the stupidity of the bylaw?
      I wonder why you feel the need to turn to personal attacks, that is usually a defense used when an argument on the issue is failing.

    2. Marc says:

      Lol. Angry much Karen? Also 2 of those students don’t even live in Great Barrington. This just keeps getting funnier.

      1. Steve Farina says:

        That is correct Marc, and they did not identify where they are from, or receive special acknowledgement to share from the moderator. But hey, they are just kids right? We don’t need to stick to the rules for them…it’s enough that they agreed with the proposal. (Yes, this is sarcastic!)
        Not only were they allowed to share, they were given extended time.

  7. Joseph Method says:

    I honestly don’t think calling the question was about silencing Steve Farina in particular. It was just late and the speeches were starting to get repetitive. The suggestion to call the question came just as Anni Crofut was about to speak and the moderator said they had to let her finish.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Joseph, the precedent was set earlier in the meeting. The person heading to the mic had the ability to speak. The next person did not once the call to question was made. At the time the call was made I had just stepped up behind Anni. I was the last person in line until a brief moment before that, when JB walked up behind me.
      As soon as I took a step forward, in preparation to speak next, the call was made. Dan Bailey then looked straight at me, as next in line, and echoed the call to queestion. I have no doubt that my presentation was being shut out. There is NO WAY anyone in that room, including Dan, who read the Edge, knew I was not going to be a significant voice against this bylaw. I too prepared for it. I Had fresh facts and insight to bring, including information and statistics from State reports on Solid Waste and Recycling, about the Town of Concord. I also had prepared other facts, and have enough knowledge to respond directly to the marketing presentation which was allowed to go over the 3 minute limit, yet there are people here saying “the meeting was just get to g too long”…. That is TOTAL BS!

      1. Joseph Method says:

        To be honest I had the impression that there were many more people waiting to talk. If I had thought that we were cutting off only one or two people I wouldn’t have voted to call the question. The moderator could have also asked for people who were opposed to the to speak next as he did on a previous issue. It would have taken a lot to change my opinion at that point in any case.

      2. Dan Bailly says:

        Steve,
        Just to make sure we are clear on a few things. First my intention was not to prevent you from speaking. For starters I voted against the ban. In fact I was the only member of the board that did vote no. I believe that the proposed ban is great in spirit and has potential to make positive changes, however I do feel it was a bit short sighted. Several locally owned and opporated businesses stand to loose thousands of dollars. Also the cost of installing, opporating and maintaining the water fountains has not yet been considered. So why did I call the vote? After a dozen or so speakers it was clear that this was a one way conversation. As an opponent I was willing to concede. By my estimation the vote was about 3-1 infavor of the ban. Which means you would have had to convince more than half of those who voted yes. Most of those people had already made their decision before the meeting. And, those on the fence most likely voted yes because it is easier to say yes rather than explaining to your neighbor as to why you said no. Furthermore, giving credit where credit is do. Those girls gave a fantastic presentation. You and I may disagree with some of their facts and figures, but it would be hard for someone on the fence to vote against that presentation. I do appreciate your willingness to speak up. I wish more people would. But when we are talking facts please make sure you get this one correct. It is spelled BAILLY.

      3. Steve Farina says:

        Thank You for clarifying that Dan (Bailly), I was kind of shocked to see you echoing the call. And, yes, the girls did do a wonderful job of presenting. It is very courageous of them to get up in a room full of people and speak like that. I hope they continue to be outspoken advocates for the environment. I also wish their mentors helped them with some of the intricacies, as well as fuller presentation of truth – such as why China is refusing our recyclables, for instance.
        For what it is worth, I am glad you are on the Select Board and represent our town so well.

  8. Tom Norton says:

    Boy do I disagree with You! Why don’t you check out who’s indoctrinating you, with alternative facts. Sad

  9. Terry Cowgill says:

    For those who would like to see how the motion to call unfolded, there is video of the exchange in this article above. Fast forward to 13:13 to see for yourself what happened.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      Thanks Terry! For anyone paying attention, you can see there is no one standing behind me waiting to talk, or awaiting the result of the vote on call to question. Apparently JB, went back and sat down. I was then the last speaker.

  10. Marc says:

    Who wanted to go against “cute little children”? Most people try to do the right thing. It was a clever tactic used by the organizers of this movement. Most people sitting in that audience were watching each other to see how their neighbors would vote. Most want to do the “politically correct” thing. It should have been on the ballot to vote on in private. And why is it certain people try and dominate and bully at meetings if you don’t agree with them. I actually found the whole thing distasteful and amateur. Mob mentality comes to mind.

  11. James Lawrence says:

    There’s a sense of need, of urgency, that takes over the mindset of a people, first in relationships, then community, then nationally, then, we can hope, globally. Plastics pollution of the global biosphere is a global catastrophe. And we have here the chance to demonstrate, on the local level, that is the right thing for the world to get off its lazy butt and do the right thing for the planet we live on.
    We need to open our eyes, hearts and moral conscience and stop excusing our massive pollution of all of nature. Plastic in our oceans, in the fish we eat, even in the air we breathe (sucked a lungful of your car’s interior on a hot day lately?) is an abomination on the right of all species to coexist.
    Difficult times require difficult decisions. I’m proud to live in Great Barrington, a town that gives a damn, that is willing to turn away from the willing blindness of most of earth’s people and make a tough decision not to continue to foul our home, pretending there is nothing we can do about it. We can do something about it. Here it is, and an important and vital step it is.
    As a full time resident of the GB area, I stand behind the vote, and look forward to the day when, faced with economic necessity, the plastics industry itself either finds a new business, or creates truly biodegradable products instead of continuing to grow the horrendous havoc it has brought down on nature and humanity in the name of profits, and that we, in turn, in the name of convenience, have supported.

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