Would bottle ban work in a water crisis? National advocacy groups would relax standards in water crisisWritten by Tom Konecny | | email@example.com
The town of Concord, Massachusetts, was the first, and still only, in the United States to prohibit the sale of water bottles, an action most Northwest Ohioans would probably consider iniquitous, if not downright abusive, given recent abstinent water events.
This Boston suburb (pop. 17,600) created national news when on Jan. 1, 2013, it made unlawful the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored drinking water under 32 ounces (1 liter), a move designed to reduce plastic water bottle landfill waste.
“Some of it defies rationality,” said Chris Whelan, town manager. “The real purpose was to try to promote the recycling of water bottles. The argument morphed over time as the community got enlightened about things.”
Concord’s real impetus for the law was to encourage legislature to include plastic water bottles as part of its bottle deposit recycling program. Groups had been pressuring its local legislature to expand its inclusion, but so far the government hasn’t. Whelan wonders if their law might change should legislature ever amend its policy.
“If things ever changed, that’s a good question,” Whelan said.
An untold number of water bottles were purchased and consumed by the case over the three-day water crisis in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, a product by which citizens survived. The loss of electricity or a phone is something that can be endured and certainly a major inconvenience, but water is a necessity for life.
Granted, there are plenty of ways to contain water besides the traditional disposable plastic bottle: recyclable milk or pop jugs, portable water bottles and large storage containers, among others. Emergencies always come without warning, and when Toledoans were caught off guard Aug. 2, the plastic water bottle was one of convenience, ease and simplicity. With around 500,000 reported to be without water, one has to assume water bottle consumption probably reached well into the millions over the three days.
A provision in Concord’s bylaw, however, allows the sale of water bottles during emergencies that affect the availability and/or quality of drinking water. Upon seeing news of Toledo’s predicament, Whelan said he and others in Concord are taking a closer look at their own state of affairs.
“It has provoked us to say, ‘What can we do to avoid that kind of situation,’” Whelan said.
But even before Concord’s law took effect, the town experienced a loss of water in 2012.
“While the debate was going on, there was a huge water main break,” Whelan said. “They shut down the water system to most of the town. We had already enacted [the bylaw], and it was pending approval from the attorney general. Some thought, ‘What a dumb idea.’ We quickly pointed out that the chief could authorize the sale and purchase of water bottles.”
While governments always ask citizens to be prepared during emergencies, Concord promotes alternatives to single-serve plastic water bottles.
“We do give advice to homeowners to prepare for hurricane or blizzard season, and that includes to keep several gallons of water on hand,” Whelan said. “I think we see a lot of people carrying reusable water bottles around. Some groups have made available water bottles to sell at cost in stores, and those are out and about.”
The town has also retrofitted several public water fountains to allow for easier water container refills, and increased them in number, too. They even have a map available of all filling stations, but even still, Whelan said, “Some visitors are frustrated.”
Concord has received calls from other universities, high schools and other organizations looking to authorize something similar. Reaction to the famous law was 50-50, yet everyone realizes they can get water bottles from nearby towns.
“It was pretty split,” Whelan said. “Some said, ‘I’ll never visit your town because you’re trampling my rights.’ Just like the town was kind of split on it, the calls we’re getting are mixed too.”
Ban the Bottle, a nonprofit group based in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, advocates banning one-time-use plastic water bottles. Their website offers numerous facts on bottled water waste, including a statistic that Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, only 23 percent of which were recycled. Those other 38.5 billion bottles end up in landfills, when instead people could be using refillable water containers.
When it comes to major events like Toledo’s, however, Ban the Bottle relaxes its position considerably.
“We cannot predict what an emergency situation will look like,” said Hannah Ellsbury of Ban the Bottle. “We advocate measures that can be implemented in non-emergency situations. When planning ahead for an emergency we strongly recommend considering environmentally friendly options. In an emergency, everyone’s top priority should be the health and safety of their family.
We advocate for citizens to drink water and stay hydrated by the means that are available to them during an incident.”
San Francisco has an aggressive plan to achieve zero net waste by 2020, and come Oct. 1 will possess an ordinance to ban the sale of plastic water bottles smaller than 21 ounces on city-owned property. The ordinance exempts sporting events and city marathons, and gives food trucks and non-profits several years to comply.
Support for bans are growing especially among learning institutions. Banthebottle.net indicates that 56 high schools and colleges throughout the United States and Canada have either started campaigns or have authorized total or partial bans against water bottles on their grounds.
The City of Toledo has not heard of any informal talk or interest in exploring a similar water bottle ban, according to spokesperson Lisa Ward.
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