Concord's annual Town Meeting voted Wednesday night to ban the sale of single-serving PET water bottles.
After nearly two hours of debate, attempted amendments and a recount, Concord Town Meeting voted to ban the sale of single-serving PET (polyethylene terephthalate) water bottles of less than 1 liter (34 ounces).
Although passed by Town Meeting, the bylaw has to be signed into law by Attorney General Martha Coakley in order to start its enforcement at the beginning of next year.
Petitioner and resenter Jean Hill was joined by Jill Appel and Francesca Gentile, who took turns speaking about the troubles surrounding single-serving PET water bottles, focusing mainly on the their wasteful properties and the fact that they are untested and potentially dangerous to one's health.
Another key point in their argument was by passing the bylaw, tap water would become more available. The trio equated dropping the bottles from stores to other green movements, such as biking instead of driving and hanging washed clothes out to dry versus using a machine.
Although the Board of Selectmen took no action on the issue, Selectman Jeffery Weiand brought up the fact that if the new bylaw is approved by the state, it would be legally binding which incurs fines for those who continue to distribute it; a warning for first offense, $25 for a second, and $50 for a third.
Weiand noted that passing the bylaw could draw litigation from bottling companies and individuals who raise the idea the law is unconstitutional and a violation of civil liberties. Weiand mentioned that these possible legal entanglements could cost Concord a great deal in future legal fees.
Following Weiand, Jim Crosby, owner of Crosby's Marketplace in Concord, spoke against the passage of the bylaw.
According to Crosby, banning the sale of bottled water would have a negative impact on his business and others. The bylaw also may reduce recycling in town due to a void on sales of the commonly recycled item, he said.
Guest speaker Huw Kingston, who came all the way from the small town of Bundanoon, Australia, the first Australian town to ban single-serving PET water bottles, explained how proud Bundanoon was to go through with the ban. Kingston also raised the point that his town's small businesses made more in re-fillable water bottles in a day than they had all year in selling single-serving PET water bottles.
At this point, two amendments were raised. The first was to exempt Crosby's and West Concord Supermarket from the ban in order to keep selling bottled water at some popular small businesses in town. The second amendment added Emerson Hospital to the anti-ban list based on the idea that single-serving PET water bottles are used as part of the regular function of the hospital and not being able to buy them in Concord would disrupt the hospital's current state.
Both amendments were shot down by a wide margin.
The arguments on both sides of the issue were numerous as dozens of residents took to the mic to make their piece heard. Town Moderator, Eric E. Van Loon, bounced back and forth between the equally devoted pro and con sides.
Many issues were raised both for the ban and against it. Here is a brief rundown of the points Concord residents made during the debate.
Pro: The ban is a symbolic and environmentally positive article that has a chance to make an impact at the state level and could grab attention on a national or world level if passed. Some studies reveal that PET bottled water contain harmful carcinogens. The ban will reduce Concord's overall consumption of plastics. The ban would help support world-wide water shortage and corporate monopolies on water sales. The ban would increase the use of free tap water. The ban could lead to more water fountains in town. Despite the ban, people will still support Crosby's Market.
Con: The ban takes away a personal freedom and could cause future incursions on other civil liberties. The ban could spur residents to buy less-healthy products instead of water. The ban could turn the public away from other environmental issues if they disagree. The ban could be seen as a form of prohibition - what products are next? The ban has no practical benefits for individual citizens. Article 32 contained no cost analysis. Some prefer the taste of single-serving bottled water. In an emergency, It would take several days to supply Concord with single-serving bottled water if needed. The water itself causes no harm.
There were two votes on the issue, and a call for reconsideration. The first vote went 484 to 403 for the ban, according to the moderator's eye. The second vote -- counted by tellers after former modarator Ned Perry challenged the first -- was 403 to 364 for the ban, causing it to pass by 39 votes.
A reconsideration of the vote was then brought up by Ted Stephens to consider voting on the issue tomorrow night. A debate followed whether a reconsideration by this was within Concord's Town Meeting bylaws. A vote was taken to establish if a reconsideration was possible. The vote to reconsider failed and the bylaw was officially adopted.
The next phase of this issue will have Article 32 go before Attorney General Martha Coakley, who will determine if the bylaw is constitutional and therefore lawful to impose. According to the selectmen, it will take several months to hear the outcome of this important issue. Coakley has shot down Concord's previous attempts to ban the sale of bottled water, citing that the language of the bylaw was inadequate to deserve becoming a law. There has since been hints by Coakley that if the language was corrected, she would enforce the bylaw.