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Resist effort to repeal plastic water bottle ban

In her letter to the editor, Marj Wexler writes: "We urgently need consumer pressure on bottling companies to challenge the unsustainable practice of producing new plastic bottles."

To the Editor:

Come to Great Barrington’s special town meeting Monday, Aug. 6, and vote NO on the motion to rescind the plastic bottle bylaw that was passed at the annual town meeting in May.

Opponents of that bylaw would prefer a redemption fee on plastic water bottles. However, an expanded bottle-redemption fee (which would have added water bottles to the list of redeemable carbonated drinks) was rejected by Massachusetts voters as recently as 2014.

But more to the point, take a quick look into any transfer station recycling bin. It’s clear that most people would rather take the feel-good action of tossing redeemables there than take them to a store for nickels. So, our 5-cent redemption fee isn’t high enough.

What redemption fee would incentivize redeeming? In Sweden, the deposit rates are 11 cents for small plastic bottles, 22 cents for large. Finland has a three-tier system: 12 cents (less than a half-liter), 24 cents and 48 cents (greater than 1 liter). I don’t think that anything less than 50 cents will motivate redeeming in the Berkshires. As in the U.S., bottling companies in Scandinavia funded the fight to resist redemption fees. We saw their propaganda and we fell for it: “Bottled water is healthier” (Remember “More doctors smoke Camels”?).

But here’s the clincher: Recycling is the not the answer, whether bottles are put into the recycling bin or redeemed. See recent articles about plastics in Scientific American and National Geographic (both can be Googled). Recycling wasn’t cost-effective even before China started refusing our plastic. U.S. oil subsidies make it cheaper to make fresh, new plastic from petrochemicals than to recycle used plastic.

Now ask yourself, “Recycled into what?” If all plastic recycling were closed-loop (if all “new” plastic products were made from used plastic, so that NO new plastics were ever produced), there might be hope in a few decades. Meanwhile, products now made from recycled plastic (fleece, polyester, carpeting, those hard rings that hold six-packs together) can’t be recycled again. They are still plastic and will reach landfills or incineration eventually.

Yes, we love Berkshire Mountain Spring Water. They are one of us. Fortunately, BMS’ business model already includes environmentally friendly models: They sell (and rent) their water bubblers and beautiful ceramic dispensers, and they also provide filtered water dispensers — super ideas!

We urgently need consumer pressure on bottling companies to challenge the unsustainable practice of producing new plastic bottles. (How about aluminum bottles with screw tops, like those Bud beer bottles?)

How do we create that pressure? Do we ask folks to voluntarily stop buying things in single-use plastic containers? What’s your best guess as to the result? Other solutions (better education about recycling, better labeling of recycle bins in GB) lead only to continued reliance on recycling.

Only legislation can stop the damage that’s happening daily to our planet. Great Barrington will be the leader in Berkshire County, and a leader in Massachusetts, which is already a leader in the country. Please come to the special town meeting Monday, Aug. 6, and vote “no” on the motion to rescind the bottle bylaw that was passed at our annual town meeting in May. This bylaw eliminates the sale of PET plastic water bottles 1 liter and smaller and, with your continued support, it will take effect May 1, 2019.

Marj Wexler

The writer is a member of the environment committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group, which successfully petitioned to get the plastic water bottle ban on the warrant for this year’s Great Barrington annual town meeting.


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