Concord, Mass., voters pass ban on PET water bottles

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CONCORD, MASS. (April 26, 5:25 p.m. ET) — More than 235 years after the first battle for independence, the town of Concord witnessed another battle and those wanting to ban single use water bottles won. Starting Jan. 1, 2013, Concord businesses will no longer be able to sell 1-liter or smaller PET bottles.

The bylaw, believed to be the first ban of PET bottles in the nation, is still subject to review by the state attorney general’s office. It passed 403-364 during Concord’s open town meeting, according to Town Manager Christopher Whelan.

“The town has been split right down the middle,” Whelan said in a telephone interview.

The bylaw has been on the docket before. Two years ago, it passed but was overturned by the attorney general, after it was termed unenforceable. Last year, a revised version lost by seven votes and advocate Jean Hill blamed the late night vote as the reason for its defeat.

“I am very happy – finally after three hard years. The two hours it took seemed like 100 hours, but it finally passed with a decisive vote – 39 votes,” said Hill, who is 84 years old.

This year, the vote was in primetime, starting with a 7:30 p.m. debate and the discussion lasted about two hours.

“We were fairly pleased that the discussion was philosophical and high level,” Whelan said.

The meeting was held at a local school and brought a large enough crowd so that the auditorium, cafeteria and even the gymnasium were used.

The International Bottled Water Association said it was disappointed with the decision.

“This ban will deprive residents of the option to choose their choice of beverage, students the ability to select a healthy option for hydration, and visitors, who come to this birthplace of American independence, a basic freedom gifted to them by the actions in this town over 200 years ago. It will also deprive the town of needed tax revenue and harm local businesses that rely on bottled water sales to keep their doors open,” IBWA said.

The trade group also said it is reviewing the situation and is keeping all options open.

Whelan said enforcement of the bylaw will probably be handled by the town’s Health Department, which he said currently checks for tobacco infractions. Violation of the bylaw calls for a first time warning, with a $25 fine the second time and a $50 for the third and any other further infractions.

It also spells out exemptions for emergencies and procedures that can be taken to suspend the bylaw. The bylaw applies to convenience stores, gas stations and grocery stores among others.

He said the 2011 passage of a measure to promote seminars on recycling actually led to discussions and adoption of sustainability principles for the town. Many Concord residents now work to use less energy, less chemicals and to reduce their carbon footprint, he said.

The town of 15,000 actually has about 11,000 registered voters and all can participate in the open meeting. The third night of town meeting votes also included three measures to reign in cats, including a leash law.

Hill said the PET bottle ban battle has been exhausting, but she plans to be back next year at town meeting.

“There is a man who wants to ban plastic bags. His reasoning is great because they do cause ecological damage. The bags fly in the air, land in the trees and collect rain water which breed mosquitos. So, I will help next year – all you need is to get 15 votes [to get a measure on the ballot],” she said.