What We Do: An Interview With Jean Hill

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I sat down with Jean Hill at her home the other day and we talked about the up-and-coming Town Meeting and Article 38 which Jean has written as a Bylaw with the assistance of Jill Appel. I asked her to tell me how this all started. 

Would you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got started as an activist?

When I was sixteen and World War II was raging, I wanted to serve my country in some way, particularly since my Dad was in the U.S. Navy and fighting in the war. I got a summer job working in a factory that had been converted to manufacturing parachutes.  There were many permanent workers who had worked there for many years, yet had never had a paid vacation.  I believed this to be unjust so I tried to start a union.  I went to the union office in Times Square, N.Y., where the factory was located, and told the officials there of my plan. They brushed me off because they thought I was a smart aleck kid.  This was my first attempt at speaking out against injustice.

Why is this Bylaw proposed under Article 38  important? 

Well, it's important because bottled water has so many problems that it is time to do something meaningful about it. It is an enormous waste of resources; it pollutes our waterways and harms wildlife; it contributes to global warming; it harms local communities; it is NOT safer than our own water; it is just not right. Enough is enough.

Also, bottled water doesn’t fit with our community values.   We’re a smart community of people who cannot be tricked by clever marketing.  And we are not willing to put convenience ahead of our concern for the near and long-term consequences of bottled water.

The momentum is growing in the national movement against bottled water. Many cities, towns and states have prohibited government purchases; many colleges and universities have virtually eliminated bottled water from campus. Concord’s decision to ban the sale of bottled water in town will set a legal precedent, bringing action to the next level and helping other communities move forward.

Isn’t this just a recycling issue? What if we all recycled all plastic water bottles? 

Bottled water is much more than a recycling issue.  Even if we recycled all bottles, bottled water would still cause harm to the environment in the form of fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.  And bottled water would still be a virtually unregulated, costly and unjust product.  We need to reduce the amount of trash in the world and part of that is reducing the amount of bottles of water out there, not recycling them.

Won’t this hurt our local businesses?

I believe this Bylaw will have minimal impact on local businesses.  Bottled water is one of many hundreds of products sold in these stores.  And the stores will still be able to sell other types of beverages and larger sizes of bottled water if they choose.  I have asked some of our local businesses in town what portion of their business includes the sale of single-serve bottled water and they replied it is a very, very, very small portion of their business.  Also, many businesses already provide tap water to their customers.  I think our local businesses care about the environment and want to provide good products to our community.

Won’t people just go to neighboring towns to buy bottled water?

Yes, that's possible, but what I'm trying to do with this Bylaw is to increase the barriers to buying single-serve bottled water because in order to help people change, you need to put policies in place that steer them away from buying bottled water and toward considering the many other good alternatives.  This, I hope, will make people stop and think before grabbing that bottle of water. Instead, I'd love to see people bringing their own tap water from home in their reusable bottles.  There are some very nice ones out there that I'd highly recommend.  It not only saves people money, but also is good for the environment and reduces trash.  And if Concord is successful in passing this Bylaw, I hope that other towns will consider taking action too.

Why does the Article focus on single-serving-sized bottles and not all bottled water?

This is the size that most people purchase and it has the greatest impact on the environment in terms of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. Getting rid of this size would have a large impact and it's a good start for the Bylaw.

Exactly what is and what is not included in the Bylaw?

It includes single-serve (1 liter or less) polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers of plain drinking water in all of its forms – spring water, artesian water, ground water, mineral water, purified water, sterile water and well water.  The Bylaw does not apply to sparkling water, flavored water, sports drinks (e.g., Gatorade), milk, juice, tea and soda.

It does not apply to PET containers of drinking water greater than 1 liter in size, and other types of containers (e.g., paper, glass) of any size drinking water. Also, the Bylaw refers to sales of single-serve bottled water in Concord, not situations in which bottled water is given away, although I hope that people switch to providing tap water.

What is your hope for the future if/when this Bylaw is passed?

I am hoping that this will be a call to action to other towns and states that will also start restricting single-serve bottled water purchases, and that will eventually lead to a reduction in wasted resources, pollution of waterways and wildlife, and global warming. I'm very concerned for our resources and feel we need to conserve them as much as possible now. I know this town is full of well-educated people who look at the big picture and care about the impact of today’s choices.  I am counting on them to be people who will take meaningful action on a serious issue. 

Are you planning any more Bylaws for the future?

Next, I may tackle the plastic bag issue!

How can I find out more about this issue?

Mark Your Calendar!  Join Jean and representatives from Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International and the Alliance for Democracy to celebrate World Water Day (a day late) on March 23rd at the Harvey Wheeler Center. Details to come!

Key Facts about Bottled Water: Please see this link

More about Article 38: Please see this link for more 

FAQs about Article 38: Please see this link for more FAQs

Do you want to see a 6 min. video on the Story of Bottled Water? See here for the video

Lastly, please see the ConcordConserves.org website block entitled "Town Meeting" for more info on the bottled water issue.

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