FAQs for Article #38: Drinking Water in Single-Serving PET Bottles Bylaw


1. Why is this Bylaw important?

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 socially unjust.  Enough is enough.  

Bottled water doesn’t fit with our community values.  As a community of well-educated people who take the broader view and care about the impact of today’s choices, we cannot be tricked by clever marketing. 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 banned government purchases; many colleges and universities have taken steps to eliminate bottled water from campus.  

We have the opportunity to set a legal precedent.  By sending a Town-approved Bylaw to the Attorney General for a full review, we will know if we can do this in Concord and can set a precedent for other communities in our state and other states to take action.

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

Single-serving-sized (1 liter or less) bottled water is the size usually purchased and has the greatest impact on the environment in terms of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions.  It is a good starting point for a bylaw.  

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

The Bylaw refers to single-serve 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 we hope that this activity declines as well due to better community awareness.

4. How much effort will it take to enforce this Bylaw?

The recommended inspection is a spot-check to see if the prohibited bottles are being sold.  It will require a few minutes per site.  We estimate that it will take about 4 days per year total time by the designated Town Department and can be incorporated into the regular work of the department.  For example, the Health Department uses an outside contractor to review kitchen operations in Town.  A spot-check for the sale of bottled water could possibly be added to this inspection without extra time and expense.  

5. What are the expected fines?  

Non-criminal disposition fines are contained in the Bylaw for Non-Criminal Disposition of Violations as adopted at the 1984 Concord Town Meeting.  The fines will be set by the Board of Selectmen after Town Meeting once this Bylaw is approved.  We recommend the following:  a warning for the first offense; a $50 fine for the second offense; and a $100 fine for the third and every subsequent offense.  

6. What are the legal aspects of this Bylaw?

All bylaws passed within municipalities in Massachusetts must be reviewed by the Attorney General’s (AG) office for constitutionality and legality before they can take effect.  According to Town Counsel, the Article is now drafted as a valid bylaw and addresses the format/content issues raised last summer by the AG.  This Bylaw will be submitted to the AG for review after approval at Town Meeting.  

According to our informal conversation with the AG’s office, there is nothing within the Massachusetts statutes that expressly allows or denies the authority of a town to prohibit the sale of a specific product within its borders.  Once we have the AG’s assessment, we will know if we can do this in Concord and can provide direction for other communities in our state and other states to take action.

7. Will the Town of Concord be subject to legal action by the bottled water industry?

We do not know how the bottled water industry will react if this bylaw is approved and sent to the AG’s office.  If the AG’s office supports the legality of the Bylaw, it is possible that the Town of Concord will be further challenged by the bottled water industry, even though the public relations effect on the industry will be damaging.  Also, AG approval of the Bylaw would be a considerable legal argument to surmount.  Municipalities have the right to pass ordinances and bylaws that protect the interests of local residents.  AG support is very powerful, yet we do not want to waste Town resources on frivolous lawsuits.  This is why the Bylaw gives the authority to the Board of Selectmen to hold a public hearing and then decide what to do with the Bylaw.

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

Some already do, some will and we accept that.  With every issue, there are people who support it strongly, people who support it generally, and people who don’t support it at all.  That doesn’t mean that we should back off on what we believe is important or believe we’ve failed if everyone does not participate.  Even those who continue to drink bottled water may change in ways that reduce their use.  And we hope that other towns will follow our lead in taking action on bottled water.

9. Won’t this hurt our local businesses?

We expect that this Bylaw will have a very small impact on local businesses.  Single-serve bottled water is a very, very, very small part of the product line of businesses in town and is mostly sold in chain stores.  Businesses can still sell larger-sized plastic and other-type containers of drinking water and other types of beverages.  And we hope that they also will begin to sell more reusable bottles.  Many local businesses already provide tap water to customers.  We are confident in the resilience of our local businesses and their commitment to sustainable products.  And we encourage everyone to buy even more locally with the money they’ve saved from not buying bottled water!

10. Won’t people just drink more soda if they can’t buy bottled water?

Actually, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, between 1980 and 2006 consumption of bottled water and soda both increased and consumption of all other beverages (tap water, milk, juice, teas, etc.) decreased.  There are many options for people – tap water, sports drinks, juice, etc.  Guidance on what to drink starts in the home.  We hope that parents will continue to emphasize Concord’s excellent tap water.

11. 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.  While more recycling may reduce bottled water’s contribution to land and water pollution, bottled water still causes harm to the environment in the form of fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.  Water still would be taken from some source and plastic bottles made, filled and shipped to stores for purchase.  Concord’s waste stream increases with all the plastic bottles, and we all pay for them to be taken somewhere else.  The first word in waste management is REDUCE.  We need to reduce the number of plastic water bottles to begin with, not vow to recycle them.

12. Some bottled water is made with 30% less plastic.  Some bottled water companies donate to charities.  Some promote recycling.  Some bottles have plant-based materials.  Isn’t this all good?

The bottled water industry engages in some very clever marketing to appeal to many different consumer values and move more of their product.  The industry’s effort to be viewed as environmentally conscious is referred to by some as “bluewashing”.  The industry’s environmental actions don’t have any meaningful positive impact on the energy use, carbon emissions, waste and other problems with bottled water.  Partially plant-based bottles are still PET bottles.  Bottles made fully from plant-based materials may only biodegrade under optimal conditions.  The most environmentally responsible choice is tap water.  

13. What if I don’t like the taste of Concord’s water?

The minerals in water give it its specific taste.  When bottled water companies “purify” water by stripping out all minerals and other substances, they re-add certain minerals and salts to provide flavor.  Several well-publicized taste tests have shown that many people cannot tell the difference between bottled water and tap water and don’t necessarily like the taste of bottled water better.

Some people in Concord taste chlorine in their tap water.  While there are several ways to disinfect water, chlorine is one of the most common forms of disinfection used to prevent bacterial growth in public water systems.  The amount of chlorine in any given home is dependent on a number of factors including age of water and source of water.  If you have a concern about the taste of your tap water, please contact the Concord Public Works, Water and Sewer (W/S) Division.  

For homeowners who are concerned about chlorine taste, the W/S Division suggests filling up a pitcher of tap water and placing it on the counter or in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  The chlorine taste should dissipate rapidly.  Another alternative is to use a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Certified water filter.  It is very important to change the filters regularly and according to the manufacturer’s recommendations because dirty filters can lead to water quality problems.  

14. What is the Concord Water and Sewer Division’s process to monitor the quality of our water?

The W/S Division monitors Concord’s tap water extensively.  Concord’s water sources (6 town wells and Nagog Pond) are very clean with ongoing protection offered through targeted land-use management as administered through the Town’s Groundwater Conservancy District Bylaw.  This is an important tool by which we can ensure our water resources are protected from potential chemical contamination from commercial or industrial land-use activities.

Each year Concord Water and Sewer Division tests for over 150 substances including, but not limited to, bacteria, chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, metals and volatile compounds in accordance with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Federal Environmental Protection Agency sampling plan requirements.  Depending on the prevalence of the substance, the W/S Division will test daily, weekly, quarterly, or every three years.  

While the W/S Division does not provide individualized testing for customers the W/S Division does have a comprehensive water quality monitoring program that tests water at key locations throughout the Town to ensure that the water citizens are getting at the ends of the distribution system is just a ‘good’ as the water in Concord Center.  

15. Where can people in Concord find tap water to drink?

Municipal tap water is available in all municipal buildings and most commercial and institutional facilities.  There are 11 drinking fountains in Concord and West Concord.  

In downtown Concord, one is located on Monument Square and is used frequently by runners and cyclists.  

One is located at the Concord Visitor Center.  

Four are located at Emerson Field and include drinking bowls for pets.  

Two are located at the high school turf fields.  

In West Concord there are two drinking fountains at Rideout Field and one next to the ATM near the train station.  

There are inside water fountains at the North Bridge Visitors Center, the Hunt Gym and the high school.  Several downtown restaurants, including Main Streets Café, Walden Grille, Helen’s and The Cheese Shop said that they would be happy to provide a drink of tap water to anyone who asks.  La Provence keeps a pitcher of tap water on the counter.

16. What will happen if there is an emergency affecting tap water quality or availability in town?

Concord W/S Division will notify customers of any confirmed water quality contamination issues which could pose a threat to public health and safety within 24 hours.  For non-acute issues that do not pose a public health risk, notice may be published in the Concord Journal, on the Concord News & Notices or other like media.  Depending on the contaminant identified, the W/S division may choose to operate the town’s emergency phone call system.

If availability of drinking water is an issue, the Town will implement a plan to distribute water at key places throughout Town.  The Article 38 Bylaw provides an exemption for a declared state of emergency affecting the public water supply in case residents would prefer to purchase single-serve bottled water instead of boiling tap water or picking up a supply at a Town distribution point.

17. How can I stay current or learn more about Concord’s water supply?

To ensure that you receive the most up to date information about any Town of Concord Emergencies, including Water/Sewer Division Emergencies, make sure you have registered to receive email News & Notices updates (see www.concordma.gov) and have the correct phone number registered with the Town’s CODE RED, Emergency Notification System. Don’t assume that you are registered, check your information today.   You may also visit the Town’s website and look up the most current version of the Annual Water Quality Report which is located at the following link: http://www.concordma.gov/Pages/ConcordMA_Water/quality

18. What are your thoughts on Voluntary Resolution Article #39?

Articles 38 (bylaw) and 39 (education) can be viewed as complementary Articles in that both seek to address the same issue from two sides – both  the supply of single-serve bottled water in Concord (Article 38) and the demand for single-serve bottled water by Concord residents (Article 39).  We appreciate the support of ConcordCAN on this issue and know that several members of ConcordCAN are actively supporting both Articles 38 and 39.  ConcordCAN has a long history of providing educational events to the Concord community and its Water Forum in the fall was excellent.  

Voluntary resolutions and education are a good supplement to an effective bylaw, but will not by themselves bring about meaningful change.  Voluntary resolutions may make everyone feel good but by their very nature they are not binding and do not provide a path to consistent and measurable action.  And experts in behavior change know that “information does not equal motivation”.  It takes more than education to bring about significant change.

A community signals its intent to address this issue by passing a Bylaw with specifics and actions.  Article 39 (education) can be viewed as a complement to the Bylaw, but definitely NOT an effective alternative.   Certainly the strongest community statement is a Yes vote on both Articles.  

Concord’s citizens are leaders.  From the brave Minutemen, to the great thinkers and writers who espoused civil action to right society’s wrongs, to the fearless supporters of the Underground Railroad, Concord’s legacy is one of strong and principled action.  We are willing to step forward on this issue to continue this legacy.

Thank you for supporting Article #38:  Drinking Water in Single-Serving PET Bottles Bylaw


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