The Environment Committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group successfully took on, as its first initiative, proposing a new bylaw eliminating from sale the small size plastic water bottles (1 liter and smaller) in the town of Great Barrington Massachusetts, beginning May 1, 2019.
Their motivation came from many news articles and the documentary A Plastic Ocean about the state of our oceans as they fill with plastic. Marine life eat the tiny fragments and die. The plastic and the ocean toxins these fragments attract are getting into our food chain.
At the Great Barrington Town Meeting, held on May 7, 2018 with 400 town residents in attendance, three student members of the committee–Olivia Jaffe, Grace Phair and Carly Terranova–narrated a 4.5 minute PowerPoint slide show. A 12-minute discussion followed the presentation, and then the voters overwhelmingly approved the bylaw.
This is what the students told the assembled town residents and officials.
Good evening, we are student members of the Environment Committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group. Our committee has worked hard to imagine a sustainable approach to providing water – talking to many people and organizations to get feedback.
We request your support for article 22. The main points of the bylaw are these:
- To eliminate the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored water in single-use PET plastic bottles, 1 liter or less, in the Town of Great Barrington, beginning May 1, 2019.
- The ban will be suspended if there is an emergency. Fire, Police, and EMS services are exempted.
- The Town Manager or her Designee will enforce the bylaw. The fines are the same as those in our current plastic bag bylaw.
- The bylaw can be suspended if implementation costs become unreasonable.
In the past few years, the news has been filled with reports of how our rivers, oceans and landfills are filling with plastic. The plastic habit runs deep in our culture. We try to avoid reaching for the plastic item on the shelves, but we often forget. Plastic is a material designed to last thousands of years, but we use it once and throw it away. Discarded plastic often enters waterways and oceans, breaking up into micro plastic pieces.
To marine life of all kinds, plastic looks and smells like food. They eat it, and they die of malnutrition. The fish and shellfish that we eat can contain plastic particles that have absorbed toxins in the ocean. So our food chain is becoming contaminated.
Recycling is not the answer. In 2016, the EPA reported that only 31% of PET plastic, the kind used for water bottles, was recycled. In the past, China took a huge share of our recyclables, but as of January 1, 2018, China no longer accepts our recyclables. So more of our recyclables now go to landfills.
Our generation is fed up with the pollution and toxicity that we have inherited. We want change. We don’t want to pay the price for these convenience products that leach toxic chemicals into our food and water. We propose a return to tap water, avoiding the consumption of water from single-use PET plastic water bottles.
We have real concerns about the bottled water industry. Too much fossil fuel is used to create bottled water. If you worry about taste or your plumbing at home, a water filter or a bubbler is cheaper than bottled water. And considerthe big price difference between a liter of bottled water and a liter of tap water!
Great Barrington will join a growing movement. There are:
- 3 town-wide bans including Concord and Sudbury, Massachusetts
- 18 bans on municipal properties including San Francisco
- 90 universities and colleges including Harvard and Brandeis
- Plus, many parks, zoos and hospitals have banned single-use plastic water bottles.
We are proposing an exciting vision. You can re-fill your own bottle at public water stations around town for which our committee will find funding and grants. Or, you can refill at stores that offer it as part of our GB on Tap program. In addition, stainless steel bottles will be available for purchase throughout town.
This bylaw does not “eliminate the healthiest drink” or force people to buy sugary drinks. A study at Washington University showed that sales of sugary drinks fell 39% after their bottle ban. Water drinkers will stick with water if it’s readily available.
Our bylaw permits the sale of water in glass and boxes. Merchants can also sell water from inexpensive coolers and floor models. They can sell compostable cups, and use a composting pick-up service that many restaurants in town already use for food scrap pick-up. The compostable collection bins can be inside or on the street.
We are grateful to Guido’s, Domaney’s, Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Prairie Whale and the 40 other prominent merchants and organizations supporting this bylaw!
We are counting on your YES vote on Article 22 —— THANK YOU.
The three students who presented at the Town Meeting, all from Monument Mountain Regional High School, are:
Olivia Jaffe, a senior, is interested in innovation and sustainability, planning to major in business in college. “Every small step we take towards eliminating plastic can create a lasting positive effect on the world around us. I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to make a difference in my own community.”
Grace Phair, a junior, loves hiking, trail running and vegetables. “We need to step back from the convenience of single use plastic and reevaluate our carbon footprints for future generations. I hope to major in Sustainable Architecture in college and go on to create structures with the lowest negative impact on our environment.”
Carly Terranova, a junior, is a gymnastics instructor, gymnast, and alpine ski racer. “Plastic is destroying our planet and it is an unnecessary product with so many substitutes available. In college, I hope to further this work in eliminating single-use plastic while cleaning up oceans in order keep the planet clean for future generations.”
Adult members of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group Environment Committee are: Jennifer Clark, Marj Wexler, Marcia Arland, Wendy Kleinman, Molly de St. André, Anni Crofut.
Town Meeting photo courtesy of David Scribner and Terry Cowgill, The Berkshire Edge.