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Single-use water bottle ban should be repealed

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By Sunday, Apr 14, 2019 Letters 23

To the editor:

Recently, a small contingent of Berkshire Women’s Action Group Environment Committee members descended on a Great Barrington Selectboard meeting. Each took a turn to speak. They expressed concerned that the Selectboard wasn’t properly informing the public (specifically businesses) about the effective date of the water bottle ban and were equally concerned about the enforcement date. As you can see from their website this morning, they can’t even get the date right (along with much of the other info on their site — including the falsehood that they proposed the ban twice and the mistaken date of the ATM).

As the 2019 ATM draws near, I will provide additional facts and examples of the clever marketing used to persuade the voters of Great Barrington to ban 1L, and less, PET water bottles. I will also provide factual reasons why it should be repealed (Article 28 of the soon to be issued 2019 ATM Warrant).

While I understand there will be people to whom the facts will not matter, and they are going to support this ban no matter what, I can’t change that. This information is for those who are open-minded enough to see there has been deception and clever marketing utilized to proffer this ban.

Here is a small example. The claim made at Town Meeting was that the year after the Concord ban took effect there was a reduction in commingled recycling of 23 tons. It was stated at the meeting that they (BWAG EC) estimate this to indicate a 40,000 PET plastic water bottle reduction. The graph below shows the State of Massachusetts data for solid waste and recycling, found on mass.gov.

The ban in Concord took effect on Jan 1, 2013. As can be seen from the graph, the number of Concord households served decreased from 2013 to 2014 while the amount of commingled recycling increased by 6 tons — using the BWAG EC numbers, this would represent an increase of about 10,000 PET plastic bottles used by a decreasing number of people in the year following the effective date of the ban.

What was going on in years before and years after is anybody’s guess. In fact, this point they emphatically shared is really useless information. The content of commingled recycling varies from day to day, and year to year, by the content which is unknown. One year may have a high glass and metal content, another lower. This data is useless in making a case for (or against) the ban yet is a prominent feature of the BWAG EC argument in support of it. Clever marketing though.

Steve Farina

Great Barrington



23 Comments   Add Comment

  1. George G. says:

    Dear Steve,
    Get a life.

    1. Michelle Loubert says:

      Mr. Farina is simply presenting his point of view (thus why this section of the Edge is called “Viewpoints”). It is simply not your viewpoint. I certainly hope we live in a community where people should not fear expressing their points of view simply because those viewpoints are not those of another group; people should not fear being chastised (at best) for their opinion or bullied (at worse). And intelligent counter-viewpoints should be welcome; it’s OK (and productive) to disagree in a respectful manner. As a matter of fact, one Select Board member often uses the mantra, “agree to disagree” as long as it is in a respectful manner. A good thing. This being said, like me, you have expressed your viewpoint as is your right. Unlike me and Mr. Farina, you did not give your full name. Viewpoints are one thing; owning them is quite another.

      1. George Grumbach says:

        I have no quarrel with rational disagreement I favor a full discussion of issues. But there comes a point where disagreement
        becomes obsession. In this case, Mr. Farina just will not let go. Despite the law having been passed twice, he continues to cavil and quibble, nor does he simply present his opposing views. It is always his opponents for whom facts don’t matter, who are “deceptive,” are not “open-minded,” and he snidely compliments them for “clever marketing.” This is not “disagreement in a respectful manner,” and it has gone on and on. Mr. Farina still demands repeal of the ordinance. It is time for him to move on. Obviously Great Barrington has.

    2. Steve Farina says:

      Mr. Grumbach,

      I have waited to respond to allow myself to ensure that my response is both rational and civil. Whether I am obsessed with this issue, or not, is not really your concern. However, if you are going to judge obsession, why did you not comment on the point I made in the comment section of a recent BAWG EC press release which got reported as news- my comment: “Additionally, one of your members admitted to arguing with business owners about whether they should be selling them or not – and had to be cautioned by a selectboard member not to give the impression she represented the Town.” This was a public meeting that was video recorded, so fact check me if you like. This is not obsessive behavior?

      I am sharing my opinion on a public forum and am willing to interact with whomever would like to. I attempt to remain civil and respectful, and perhaps at times teeter on the edge of that.

      I would greatly appreciate your view of the data presented above, and your take on how it was presented to the Town at the Town meetings.

      I am not a professional graphics designer, nor a consultant on re-branding for businesses, I am a simple handyman trying to make his way through the universe. During their presentation, and continuing on their website, this group consistently decries the effect of “clever marketing” which created the bottled water industry. While that may be true, my attempt is to point out that they are utilizing the same methods in an effort to repeal 1L or less PET water bottles. _ by the way, if it were not for my “obsessive” comments causing an amendment at the ATM, the bylaw would have restricted all 1L and less water bottles, including glass, paper, and plastic. Again, fact check me. Read the 2018 ATM Warrant. Then compare the modifications to my “obsessive” comments, and the responses to them, on the Edge leading up to the meeting.

      Fact: The bylaw was not “passed twice”. Think about that statement. The group that petitioned for the bylaw keeps stating it was. The bylaw was passed at the ATM.
      Subsequent to its passage there was a citizen’s petition which garnered 337 verified GB voter’s signatures calling for the repeal of the bylaw. This petition triggered the need for the Selectboard to call for a Special Town Meeting(STM). The Selectboard, for whatever their reasons, decided NOT to advertise the STM.
      Think about that for a moment.
      If I remember correctly, the original bylaw passed with less than 200 votes – regardless it was definitely much less than 300.
      At the STM the repeal effort was defeated 299-199.
      The law was not “passed for a second time” the repeal effort fell short at an unadvertised meeting.

      I had included a picture in my submission of this LTE which did not make the edit. It is a telling photo captured from the CTSB video of the ATM. In it, I am standing at the microphone – VERY clearly the last person waiting to speak on Article 22 (the water bottle ban). In the foreground of the picture (due to the angle of the CTSB camera) in BWAG EC member Jennifer Clark voting on to end the discussion rather than allow me (a know dissenter of the ban) to speak. That picture speaks volumes.
      Again, at the STM, the meeting was cut short via the same parliamentary procedure. People had already made up their mind and wanted to get home. The unadvertised meeting attendance swelled by 25% over the ATM, so there was clearly interest in the subject. The meeting was barely an hour long (including all the introductory requirements) at the time this issue was cut short. Based upon subsequent vote totals about 150 people left the room and hurried home after voting on the ban repeal effort.

      As for GB moving on: The BWAG EC recently attended at Selectboard meeting in which they stated that by their estimate about 50% of the retailers in town continue to sell the banned water bottles. Apparently, those retailers haven’t moved on – nor have their customers who continue to purchase the product. In fact, their is such broad support for this ban, and concern about “the supporters” sticking around for the full meeting and discourse on the subject that the BWAG EC asked for the unprecedented action of rearranging the Warrant Articles to make this citizen petition the first thing on the agenda. Apparently, based upon the comment from the Selectboard chair, there was even a request to have it removed from the Warrant. Huh? What is that all about?

      It seems that only part of Great Barrington has moved on, and they want to silence the other part.

      1. David Long says:

        Steve- I respect your activism and you have often made good and constructive contributions to the local public discourse. However, on this point I have to agree with George (in spite of his terse response). We have voted twice to pass this ordinance — it’s time to move on from the discussion and implement. I have to say that I had my own concerns about the ban and abstained for the first vote, but after listening to the range and depth of local voices on the subject, it became clear to me that as a town we were ready to take action.

        While I agree that reliable empirical data about the Concord experience is hard to come by — and that the BWAG should be wary of using questionable statistics used by other pro-ban groups, the known fact is that the Concord water bottle ban is generally perceived to have had positive cultural impacts and has raised awareness about waste reduction, water quality, and environmental issues more broadly than the bottles themselves — which is precisely the point of an ordinance like this.

        At the same time, bans of this type tell industry and entrepreneurs where demand is going and stimulates innovation. In my professional life I have seen how the regulatory pressure on the computer industry has dramatically reduced waste and increased recyclability of devices. In the packaging of most devices, the mountains of styrofoam and plastic have been replaced with ingeniously formed packing made from almost entirely recycled and compostable paper products — this did not happen because the demand for computers was negatively impacted by their packaging — this happened because of regulatory pressure. While there is still a long way to go to reduce e-waste, the trajectory is positive. The plastic water bottle ban is one more voice in a national chorus of voices saying that while there is need and demand for portable potable water, it should be delivered in a less environmentally destructive way. These kinds of demands are the challenges and opportunities that drive innovation — and ultimately, economic opportunity and sustainability.

        Change is often hard and nearly always a bit messy. But without change, things actually do not stay the same — they get worse as the downsides of the status quo catch up with reality. While your graph does not actually say anything about Concord’s water bottle ban per se, it does speak volumes on the need to reduce household waste and how acute the waste problem really is. While some have difficulty seeing how focusing on plastic water bottles changes anything, for others it changes everything. In the end of the day, if we are going to have a more sustainable society — and drive innovation to serve that cause — then we collectively need to embrace the power that we have to shape change.

        The plastic water bottle ban is one way our community has voted to shape change. We should be proud that we have had to courage to make such a bold statement about something that so many see as so small. We owe it to each other to give it a chance — my guess is that over time more of us will realize that it is not small at all.

      2. Steve Farina says:

        Thank You, David, for the thoughtful response. I appreciate your perspective. As such, I would like to offer this for you to check out:

        https://www.cecsb.org/ditch-plastic/rethink-the-drink/

        The group behind this is finding excellent results on raising awareness – without banning water bottles. I find their apprach to be quite appealing. Education and encouragement driving consumer demand and ultimately the methodology and practices of product delivery. I’d like to note that the example you give of packaging changes in the computer industry were not the result of banning computers.

      3. Steve Farina says:

        WAIT! WHAT?
        .
        .
        .
        .
        .
        Did I just give an example of a SUCCESSFUL water filling station implementation program? – yes!
        No water bottle ban attached – correct
        Youth excited to spread the word – yes
        Education winning out in the battle against plastics – yes
        And, no bottle ban? – none needed

        What happened to all my detractors?
        Loose your voice?

      4. David Long says:

        Calm down Steve, it’s alright. I was just taking my own advice and letting it drop…. but if you insist… 😉

        The program you point to is a good one. Efforts like this should always come first.

        I will point out that Monument Mountain students were very involved with a program very much like this (if not the same) some seven or eight years ago. As a result, two refilling stations were installed in the high school.

        I dare to say that the student efforts actually laid groundwork for the town’s plastic water bottle ban….

      5. Steve Farina says:

        David, I literally laughed out loud…that was so much nicer than “Get a life” 😅
        Hopefully my presentation will persuade you to vote to repeal the ban, but either way you ultimately choose to vote I hope you say “hey” at the ATM. (Funny thing…I wasn’t even thinking of you as a detractor as I wrote that)

  2. John says:

    It’s a simple feel good bylaw that at the end of the day, achieves little or nothing to meet the end goal.
    Just yesterday, I watched many folks on main st GB with their water bottles on that warm day.
    Now, I agree we would all be better off with less plastic. Paper is a nice biodegradable solution.
    Sadly, this boutique feel good bylaw has the primary effect of wasting time and resources of many.
    I would encourage the individuals wanting to drive chance, to recognize the legislation and lawyers is not the only way to foster that change. Be a solution, not problem.

  3. W.C. says:

    Another silly bylaw. However as we know G.B. has to be “special”.

  4. Cynthia LaPier says:

    Steve, after all this time, it is clear that your belief that the town was tricked by a group of crafty women with “clever” schemes is intractable. You have the time and the energy, you’ve made it clear that the environment is something you care deeply about – why not use your skills to build coalition? It’s a shame that your energies are spent defiantly wading against the overwhelming current of the future in which there is no doubt going to be a massive reduction in single use plastic.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      I would be happy to build a coalition, all we need is for the BWAG EC to embrace the repeal of the water bottle ban, and I will be happy to help them locate and set filtering criteria for the filling stations.

  5. Cynthia LaPier says:

    You and your local cohort have made it clear that you believe the real problem is with plastic “nip bottles” which are a major source of litter around town. Have you been following how other towns and municipalities in our state have been dealing with this issue? Some towns have banned them outright, others are working hard to add the tiny bottles to the “bottle bill” in hopes of decreasing the litter. I look forward to hearing more about how we can address this problem that we all agree on. It’s not either/or – let’s keep moving forward towards common goals.

  6. B says:

    I’m moving to the area soon, and these silly do-nothing “bans” and virtual signals make me want to avoid Great Barrington.

    1. Tom Blauvelt says:

      Dear Anonymous John, B and W.C.
      Great Barrington is indeed a special community one where its citizens care passionately about issues and we engage in spirited and usually respectful debate. Voters at two different Town Meetings overwhelmingly supported the ban on single serve plastic water bottles. I am optimistic that this latest effort to overturn the by law will be defeated. I am not sure why you consider this a silly by-law. We need to start reducing the amount of plastic in use today and I am grateful that Great Barrington will be taking a lead in this effort.

  7. barbara l campbell says:

    Steve, your tireless effort to disqualify all the work this group of women have done, and continues to do.. is getting old! Sure, they made mistakes, and yes, not everyone agrees, but the people voted on this bylaw by majority, TWICE. Be positive and constructive. Enough with the incessant negativity. We need collectively ..to save this planet.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      I am not disqualifying all their work. I applaud their effort to use private funds to install water filling stations, and have said so repeatedly (though I don’t agree with the choice of 1st locations, nor understand the criteria for or type of filtering used in some not others).

      Making mistakes and sharing falsehoods to sway opinion are not the same thing – see data above.

  8. Janice Storti says:

    Meander through your favorite grocery store and take note of all the unhealthy liquids being marketed for consumption in plastic. I agree that plastic is detrimental to our environment. What I don’t understand is how one can rationalize banning individual plastic water bottles and allowing much less healthy individual plastic soda bottles and the like to continue to be in use in Great Barrington. Very recently I attended a performance at Monument Valley and I was surprised to see individual water bottles being marketed during intermission. I was pleased but surprised as I didn’t realize that this exception had been allowed. Individual sized water bottles can still be purchased in almost all the towns surrounding Great Barrington.

    1. Ruairi says:

      I would imagine it’s possible rationalize banning plastic water bottles and not plastic soda bottles because your taxes already pay for water to come out of your taps. This isn’t the case for any of the other beverages.

      1. David Long says:

        Actually, water is paid for by household and business water bills, not taxes….

    2. Steve Farina says:

      Hi Janice, I just found some interesting info about the sugary drink thing. The BWAG EC touted Washington University (in St. Louis) as banning these water bottles and seeing a 39% reduction in sugary drink sales. What they didn’t mention was some background info. First, the University retrofitted more than 100 water fountains, and installed a bunch of new ones on campus. Prior to arriving on campus, new students receive at least 2-3 publications highlighting the water bottle ban. At their freshman orientation they receive a free refillable bottle. So through education and encouragement, they have created an environment (albeit a relatively closed environment) where the students tend to choose refilling options when convenient.
      The university still sells or utilizes well over 800 cases of water each year, as they recognize that the refill option is not suitable for large gatherings such as commencement ceremonies. Additionally, their School of Medicine continues to sell bottled water in dining locations and vending machines due to concerns about limiting water access for medical patients.
      It would seem that for Great Barrington to have an impact and result like that, we would have to inform all potential residents, 2nd home owners, tourists, and visitors of any kind about the ban prior to their arrival -so they could decide if they still wanted to come, have ample water filling stations throughout the community, and allow exemptions for large events and for medical patients.
      Also not covered or discussed is how many students bring their own bottled water from home, or otherwise purchase off campus.

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