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Concord

Third try for ban on water bottles

Business, ecological issues raised in debate

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / April 1, 2012
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For the third year in a row, Concord residents will vote on a proposal that would ban the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles in town.

The plan was approved at Town Meeting in 2010 but shot down by the state attorney general’s office, which found that it was not written as a valid bylaw. It was revised and resubmitted last spring, but was defeated by a margin of seven votes.

Jean Hill, a resident who is spearheading the effort to ban the sale of plastic water bottles smaller than 1 liter, likes its chances this year.

“I think it’s going to pass and Concord will be the first town in the country,’’ Hill said.

She said the bottles never fully disintegrate, and can be harmful to wildlife.

“I’m 84 years old, I have four kids, six grandchildren, and I’m doing it because I don’t want the planet trashed for all the generations to come,’’ she said. “I think people are beginning to realize there is more to life than convenience. We have to respect the planet.’’

Not everyone is behind the plan, which is among the warrant articles facing annual Town Meeting when it convenes on April 23.

Jim Crosby, chairman of the board for Crosby’s Marketplace, which has a store on Sudbury Road, doesn’t think the ban will stop people from buying water. Instead, he thinks it will drive customers out of town to find it.

Crosby said 50 percent of the store’s bottled water sales are for containers less than 1 liter.

“I’m sure the proponents have good intentions but it’s misguided,’’ he said. “It’s convenient for people who need to hydrate. There’s an extremely strong demand for it. People will leave town to purchase them and it’s damaging to buying local. If they go out of town to buy water, they’ll buy other things. People want Poland Springs, and we think they should have the right to buy it.’’

Chris Hogan, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association, which is based in Alexandria, Va., said the industry group is aware of the issue and is providing information as requested, but local businesses are leading the opposition.

“The primary issue we have is it’s about consumer choice,’’ Hogan said. “People should be able to choose bottled water if they want to.’’

Hogan also said that banning bottled water will not eliminate plastic waste. He suggested that efforts be focused on conservation and recycling.

Jill Appel, a Concord resident who is involved in the effort with Hill, said she thinks residents will continue to support local businesses.

“We care about our local businesses and we hope that they recognize this bylaw for what it is - a community choice for a more sustainable world and a better future for our children,’’ she said in a statement. “We will continue to buy local, and by making this choice, we are agreeing to buy even more locally. We do know that Mr. Crosby has many thousands of products to sell, and can make money from selling alternative products such as reusable bottles and even chilled, filtered Concord tap water.’’

Hill said she has more help this year and is calling on as many people as she can to support the proposal. Hill said she was “naïve’’ the first year, and didn’t take care to write the article as a bylaw. Last spring, she said, the initiative was voted on toward the end of the evening, when many residents had already left. She said one change from last year is that the article does not designate an enforcement officer, but leaves it up to the town manager to delegate the responsibility.

There is a provision in the bylaw that allows for the sale of single-serving bottles if the town’s drinking water supply is compromised. It also lays out a series of fines for offenders. A warning would be issued for the first offense, a $25 fine for the second offense, and a $50 fine for the third and each subsequent offense.

Selectmen have not taken a position on the article, which Town Manager Chris Whelan said is likely to be discussed during the board’s April 9 meeting.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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