FAQs about the water bottle bylaw which takes effect May 1, 2019

THE BYLAW

Who initiated this water bottle bylaw?

The Environment Committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group proposed the article to Great Barrington Annual Town Meeting in June and again in August at a special Town Meeting, 2018. Both times, it passed by about a 3:2 margin. The committee is comprised of environmentally concerned volunteers.

What exactly is the bylaw?

Click here to read the bylaw.

What are the benefits to our community?

The benefits are many:

  • lower waste disposal costs
  • less pollution of town land and waterways and more enjoyment of them by our citizens and visitors
  • increased sales of alternative products
  • reduced exposure to the harmful chemicals that leach into bottled water
  • more cash in our pockets from the savings

We will be a role model for taking a stand on an important issue and will inspire actions in communities across the nation and around the world. Furthermore, this bylaw shows that we as a community will not be tricked by clever marketing, and we are not willing to put convenience and perceived “freedom of choice” ahead of our concerns about the consequences of bottled water.

Exactly what is and is not included in the bylaw?

The bylaw refers to single-serve (1 liter or less) polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic containers of plain drinking water in all of its forms – spring, artesian, ground, mineral, purified, sterile and well. It does not apply to sparkling or flavored water, sports drinks (such as Gatorade, milk, juice, tea and soda). The bylaw also does not apply to drinking water in PET containers greater than 1 liter in size, or in other types of containers (such as paper and glass).

Why does the bylaw focus on single-serving bottles and not all bottled water?

Single-serve plastic bottles are the most popular purchase and have the greatest impact on the environment in terms of energy use, carbon dioxide emissions and pollution. Thrown away single-serve plastic bottles make up the greatest percentage of the plastic bottles found in landfills and the ocean. Overall, we focused on water because there’s an obvious alternative: safe-tested tap water.

What happens in an emergency?

Emergency services will be exempt from this ban.


ALTERNATIVE POLICIES AND PRODUCTS

Why not just reduce consumption through education?

Studies on behavior change report that communities can invest significant resources in educational campaigns but achieve only limited success in bringing about the desired change. With this bylaw, we have set a legal precedent that we hope will inspire other communities to take similar action.

What about eliminating the sale of other plastic packaging?

We enthusiastically encourage anyone who is passionate about reducing plastic waste to introduce new bylaws at future town meetings targeting other forms of plastic packaging. For a starter, see our page on the US PIRG effort to Tell Your Governor:It's Time to Solve Our Plastic Waste Problem.

What if we just recycled all plastic water bottles – wouldn’t that reduce plastic waste just as well as this bylaw?

In 2016, the EPA reported that 31% of our PET plastic gets recycled. Then, China issued an embargo on American recyclables, creating a lack of demand in the market which means more and more of our recyclables go to landfills. But what about the PET plastic that is recycled? It winds up as other products (fleece, decking), which eventually end up as trash. Those products have lifetimes but plastic is forever. Finally, any energy savings from recycling does NOT offset the energy consumed by the original manufacturing process of PET plastics and their transportation –both of which require immense amounts of crude oil. Recycling simply doesn’t offset the pollution produced in the original production process.

Why not switch to ‘compostable plastics?’

Compostable plastics are advantageous over petroleum-based plastics, but only if they are properly disposed of. When mistakenly thrown into a recycling bin with petroleum-based plastics, compostable plastics create havoc in the regular recycling stream. They need to be properly composted and there are few industrial composting services nationwide. We are fortunate to have one nearby in New York State that is expanding into the Berkshire market and we hope to find ways of working more closely with them.

Wouldn’t a deposit on water bottles be better?

Deposit mandates need to be passed by the state, not town. In 2014, MA voters rejected the idea of increasing the deposit.


THE CONSEQUENCES

With this bylaw, won’t people just drink more soda?

As the promotion of healthy food and beverage choices were being made by health officials to the public, the bottling corporations created the selling and marketing of bottled water to offset the losses in sugary drink sales. As long as good drinking refill tap water is available, people who choose water over soda, will continue to do so.

Will this bylaw cost people more money?

Tap water is much cheaper than bottled water. Drinking eight glasses of tap water a day costs about 49 cents a year. If you got that hydration exclusively from bottled water, you’d pay about $1,400 a year, or 2,900 times more. If you’re living at the poverty line, that’s 10 percent of your income (read this article for more). Even filter devices like the Brita are cheaper than regularly drinking bottled water.

Everyone is always talking about plastics in the ocean, but we live far from the ocean here. So why does it matter?

Plastic that is thrown away often winds up in landfills and waterways (streams, rivers and tributaries that ultimately lead to the ocean).

Won’t this hurt our local businesses?

Single-serve bottled water is just one of many hundreds of products local businesses sell. Businesses can continue to sell larger-sized plastic and other-type containers of drinking water as well as other beverages. And they can sell alternatives such as reusable bottles as well as chilled and filtered tap water in cups or directly into customers’ refillable bottles. By participating in the GB on Tap initiative, merchants will have new visibility in the community, and they will have the opportunity to reach a broader customer base to sell to.

More broadly, we see this bylaw as a merchandizing opportunity for the town as a whole - it will encourage shoppers who feel positive about this change to support our stores and our environment.

Won’t people just go to neighboring towns to buy bottled water?

Some people prefer to shop at larger box stores. But for most people, the convenience of local markets cannot be outweighed. With every reform, there will be people who don’t support it. The movement to reduce plastic waste continues to grow with more institutions, towns and cities adopting standards to eliminate single-serve plastic.

How is recycled PET plastic dealt with in GB?

All recycling in GB is ‘single stream.’ This means that everything – paper, plastic, glass, metal etc.. – is mixed together and then driven by private disposal companies (Rogers, Allied Waste, Barbato's etc…) to giant recycling facilities in either Springfield MA or Albany NY. Here, the recyclables are mechanically separated, and contaminants are removed. Plastic is ‘flaked’ and baled, stored in the courtyard and shipped to market, assuming there is demand.

How is recycled PET plastic dealt with nationally?

Similarly to the process described above. In almost all cases, your PET bottle will be down-cycled into a different product – fleece, toys, decking, etc. – that CANNOT be recycled, so when THAT reaches the end of its life, it becomes petroleum-based plastic trash.

How do I keep my refillable bottle clean?

Clean with hot water and dish detergent. Some bottles can be placed in the dishwasher.


WHERE ELSE HAS WATER IN PLASTIC PACKAGING BEEN REGULATED?

Who else has passed this bylaw?

Two other MA towns have passed this bylaw - Sudbury MA and Concord MA, and one nearly ready in W. Tisbury, MA. Hundreds of universities and municipalities have passed similar regulations that limit the sale of water in PET plastic.

Concord MA passed a similar ban in 2013. Has it been successful for them?

Concord’s tonnage of the non-paper stream of their dual-stream recycling program decreased from 602 tons in 2012 to 579 tons in 2013, the first year of their ban. Their Board of Health was the designated enforcement agency, and they have not had to make any adjustments in staffing.

Concord’s Selectboard Chair told us: “You still see plastic bottles being used around town. But on the whole people feel it was the right decision. We felt we should be in the forefront of these issues. You have to look at the problem we're passing on to the next generation. I feel this is the point of local government - and by doing so then to make a statement to a broader public. Hopefully, the state will catch on. You have to convince enough people it's the wave of the future. Sudbury saw that is was working, and their bylaw is now in effect. We were a model for them. Rather than retrench, they saw it doesn't do harm."


WATER IN GB AND HOUSATONIC

Where can citizens and tourists find tap water to drink?

Please see this link that describes our GB on Tap program.

Is the quality of the water in GB and Housatonic safe for drinking?

GB’s and Housatonic’s town water is safety-tested. If you worry about taste or your home’s plumbing from the main water lines, a Brita (or similar at-source or whole house) filter system is easy to use and maintain and, over time, is less costly than purchasing individual bottles of water. View water quality reports for Great Barrington and for Housatonic.