The single-use plastic water bottle ban and GB on TAP: A progress report

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of this story, with clarification about the enforcement and community education about the bylaw.

Great Barrington — We, the Environment Committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group, are a small volunteer committee fully committed to upholding the will of the people as expressed in two successive votes in favor of the bottle bylaw in Great Barrington. Our members are Jennifer Clark, Anni Crofut, Wendy Kleinman, Marcia Arland and Marj Wexler. We are working as hard as we can to lay the foundations for the smooth unfolding of the bylaw and our accompanying GB on TAP program. We want to do everything we can to support our Selectboard and the town to help them begin the enforcement of this bylaw as soon as possible.

In this letter, we wish to update Great Barrington citizens and our Selectboard on our work. Our GB on TAP program will make clean tap drinking water readily available in Great Barrington and Housatonic. This program will have three areas of focus.

The first focus is the Merchant Program: many participating retailers and restaurants will offer pedestrians a readily available, free source of drinking water to fill their refillable bottles. Some merchants will provide water through fountains, others through bubblers, and still others will fill bottles at the tap.

Decal for storefront window.

Each merchant will display a prominent GB on TAP decal  on their window to alert pedestrians, and GB on TAP maps will be available online and throughout town to identify locations of all participating merchants.

At present, an impressive 25 merchants  have committed to participate in this collaborative community initiative, slated to launch within the month. We have designed and prepared the window decals and provided merchants with detailed options for water dispensing equipment ideas. 

We have also sourced a quality affordable stainless steel water bottle with an optional GB on TAP logo, which merchants can sell for a profit.

Domaney’s Liquors and Fine Wines is one of 25 retailers supporting this bylaw.

The second focus of GB on TAP will be the installation of state-of-the-art Water Refill Stations around Great Barrington and Housatonic. These stations have proven highly effective in providing drinking water to pedestrians in other towns such as Concord, Mass., and can be seen frequently in and around public buildings such as airports and schools.  They are designed for three-season use — April to October — when foot traffic is highest. Over the winter months, people can rely on the GB on TAP merchants to refill their bottles.

An example of a non-filtered, exterior water station by Elkay.

These refill stations are extremely hygienic, as no skin or mouth contact is needed to refill your bottle. The units will be owned and maintained by the town. The town employees have been very supportive in planning for the installation of these stations.

Depending on the unit and the location chosen, the price for the purchase and installation of each station runs between $8-$10,000. Thanks to an extremely generous local citizen, the first station has already been paid for and will be installed in the next several months at Town Hall. (These are conservative figures, and if the total tab is lower, we will be thrilled.)

Funding for a second station is well underway. Here’s how you can donate, thanks to a successful Spoken Word Fundraiser held in November, and to the generous donations of many private citizens. We have raised nearly $6,000 for this second unit, which is slated for Housatonic. (See our fundraising brochure here. No tax dollars have been utilized to date.

The issue in Housatonic is this. Because of the water quality issues in the hamlet, filtering is of great importance. There are technology limitations however, and exterior water stations are not made with reliable filter technology. So, in researching a unit that can filter properly, we have determined that the best solution is to attach a unit to the outside wall of a public building while housing the filtering apparatus inside the building for protection. Research and discussions are ongoing with the town about the best unit and its location. Housatonic Water Works has generously offered to cover the cost of the water provided to the public through the Housatonic Station.

The third focus of GB on TAP is education. We will be working in conjunction with the town to educate the public through social media, articles, events, radio and TV interviews, flyers and posters. See this example of our on-air educational outreach from September, 2018.

Berkshire Women’s Action Group Environment Committee members (from left) Wendy Kleinman, Marj Wexler, Jennifer Clark and Marcia Arland proposed the town bylaw to prohibit the sale of single-use drinking water bottles of 1 liter or less. Photo: Terry Cowgill

And to top it all off (pun intended!), the Environment Committee now has a comprehensive GB on TAP website which covers everything from the bylaw to all aspects of GB on TAP, to how to DONATE, as well as many educational resources about the issues of plastic waste, domestically and globally.

The Great Barrington 2018 Annual Town Meeting votes in favor of a ban on single-use plastic water bottles. Photo: David Scribner

The bylaw has been in effect since January 1, 2019. Last Monday, the Selectboard announced that they wish to postpone the date of enforcement from May 1, 2019 until May 1, 2020. The Board wishes to see the stations in place, accompanied by more education of the general public and retailers. We understand this concern and over the spring and summer, we will work with the Town to install stations and create a better understanding of the bylaw throughout town. Once these things have been accomplished, enforcement can begin.

To conclude, we are grateful for the groundswell of support we have received from citizens, merchants, restaurants, and the Great Barrington town government. This bylaw was voted into law twice. It is the will of the people, and, over time, it will prevent the waste of millions of plastic water bottles.