Preserving the Environment

The Story of the First American City to Ban the Plastic Water Bottle

December 22, 2014
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The Story of the First American City to Ban the Plastic Water Bottle
Concord, Mass. is the first U.S. city to ban disposable plastic water bottles. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Meet the octogenarian that led the successful campaign to rid her town of this environmental pest.

If you’re thinking about stopping by Concord, Mass., you’ll want to bring your own reusable bottle. The historic town, which is the birthplace of the Revolutionary War and the home of famous thinker Henry David Thoreau, has a ban the ubiquitous water receptacle.

In Jan. 2013, Concord became the first city in the nation to ban this plastic menace, a charge led by octogenarian Jean Hill and her activist partner Jill Appel.

A documentary of the battle, “Divide in Concord,” premiered in July. Proponents of the ban wanted to curb waste and fossil fuel use. According to the Ban the Bottle website, “Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year.”

Meanwhile, opponents (led by Adriana Cohen, a political commentator) called the ban an intrusion on corporate interests as well as “an attack on freedom,” EcoWatch notes.

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“You have this supremely educated base of people that are focused on ideals. People know their facts. People were only speaking if they knew what they were talking about, which was refreshing. The overall debate would come down to free commerce versus the environment,” documentary director Kris Kaczor says in an interview. “Basically the rights of corporations to make a profit, and for a populous to be able to choose a product that is legal and safe, versus banning a product completely in service of the environment.”

After a campaign that lasted three years, the bottle ban activists won. It now states in section 1 of the city’s water bottle ban bylaws, “It shall be unlawful to sell non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter (34 ounces) or less in the Town of Concord on or after January 1, 2013.” Violators of the ban will first receive a warning, a second offense results in a $25 fine, third and following offenses result in a $50 fine per violation.

The debate is still raging and you can read comments surrounding the issue here. For instance, one dissenter of the ban wrote, “I have found, as a resident of Concord, that if I’m out and I or my children want a drink, the only options are sugary drinks!”

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Still, more and more parts of the country are waking up to the unsustainable reality of plastic use. San Francisco recently followed in Concord’s path becoming the first major American city to ban plastic bottles, and other activists have been inspired to bring the ban to their own towns. (That’s not to mention all the cities and states banning the plastic bottle’s pesky cousin: plastic bags.)

Change, slowly but surely, can be made. As Kaczor says about his documentary’s leading lady, “At our current state in history, people are becoming pretty apathetic and pessimistic about our ability to change, and this is a true example of how one person can make a difference, potentially and ultimately at a global level.”

 

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