To the Editor:
Greetings to all who live, shop and vote in Great Barrington.
A recent letter by Andy Moro (and subsequent comments by all) brings up the very issues that have spurred us on to create and publicize our proposed bylaw curbing the sale of water sold in single-use plastic bottles. We ask that people attend town meeting, keeping their minds open to hearing another approach to providing drinking water. To learn more about the economics, please see my last point below.
Here are the facts:
Plastic is filling our rivers, oceans and landfills. This is well documented all over the Internet by reputable sources. The plastic breaks up into tiny fragments. Fish, birds and all marine life mistake these particles for food; they eat it and they die from malnutrition. Plastic is entering the food chain – our fish and shellfish have the stuff in them (See “Why Do Seabirds Eat Plastic? It Smells Like Fish to Them”).
Recycling is no longer the answer. The EPA has calculated that only about 30 percent of our plastic recyclables get to a processing plant. Now that China refuses to take a large part of our recyclables for their use, the market has softened and likely even less will reach a plant (See “Mountains of US recycling pile up as China restricts imports”).
A redeemable surcharge on plastic water bottles to encourage more collection and recycling was shot down by Massachusetts voters in 2014. The water bottling industry made their case and the voters fell for it (see “Bid to expand Mass. bottle law soundly rejected”).
At least half of the water in PET plastic bottles is filtered tap water. All of it is harvested, packaged and trucked in from other localities. This is an unsustainable process for providing water to a population (See “Global environmental impact of bottled water is ‘enormous’”).
Great Barrington’s town water is excellent. Housatonic’s, from what I hear, is not as tasty, but it’s all clean and filterable by homeowners – which would save people lots of money. See filters for this purpose locally at Carr Hardware and on the internet.
Concerning the purchase of new four-season, freeze-resistant hydration stations, we will seek corporate assistance, grants and public monies. Grants are available, too, for providing water bottles at a very low cost.
Concord, Massachusetts, began a similar ban on the sale of PET plastic water bottles on January 1, 2013. Their tonnage of the non-paper stream of their dual-stream recycling program saw a reduction from 602 tons in 2012 to 579 tons in 2013. Their board of health was the designated enforcement agency, and their public health director has not had to make any adjustments in staffing.
Economics: We are extremely concerned that small merchants not suffer from this change. To this end, we have designed an option that could easily be more profitable, giving them a return on their investment within a year. It is this: Merchants can install filtered water dispensers in their stores. The customer would purchase a compostable cup and lid from the merchant. Merchants would use a plastic composting service newly available in this area, Natural Upcycling, that will pick up compostable plastics for their industrial composting facility. They are a reputable firm and numerous restaurants in town use them for food scrap pick up now. We welcome inquiries about specific products and companies. And please note: Our emergency first responders such as fire, police and EMS are exempt from this bylaw.
This is a movement that is happening around the country and the world. Twenty-one towns or cities have limited the sale of water in PET plastic single-serve bottles, 90 universities including Harvard and Brandeis have implemented bans, and hospitals and zoos are doing the same.
Great Barrington will set a model for area and regional towns to follow for similar bans. As a famous philanthropist once said, you have to start somewhere. We have had a positive response from our business community, with endorsements from 30+ retailers from Guido’s to Soco to Domaney’s.
Measures are being taken across the country due to the urgency of conditions and we need to join forces. We feel humanity must make a change in course. It’s up to us to make these critical decisions now.
The writer is a member of the Environment Committee, Berkshire Women’s Action Group.