SPOTLIGHT on Concord, Massachusetts: Ditching Disposable Plastic Water Bottles

If you look hard enough you’re always sure to find something inspiring going on in the world. On this Monday morning, I stumbled upon a green action definitely worth applauding: Concord, Massachusetts has placed a ban on single-use plastic water bottles.

We’ve seen bans placed on plastic shopping bags in a number of cities already, but Concord is the first U.S. city to extend that ban to disposable water bottles. After a three-year effort by the Ban the Bottle campaign, Concord’s new law prohibits the sale of non-sparkling, unflavored liquids in single serving PET (polyethylene terephthalate – a type of plastic) bottles smaller than one liter. Wow – that’s a lot of qualifiers! As you can surmise from the language, sodas, flavored waters, and sparkling waters are not included in the ban – nor are larger bottles of flat water, such as gallon sizes. Additionally, exceptions will be made for emergency situations. However, even with all of these exceptions, eliminating small disposable water bottles alone will be a marked improvement.

Here are a few facts about these single-use plastic water bottles, courtesy of Ban the Bottle:

  • Production of the plastic water bottles used by the United States each year requires 17 million barrels of oil – that’s enough to power 1.3 million cars for a year!
  • Each year, it is estimated that over 38 billion plastic water bottles end up in landfills.
  • Antimony, a chemical found in these PET plastic bottles, has been shown to cause health issues, such as dizziness and depression – even in small amounts.

The bottom line: we use a lot of disposable plastic water bottles every year, and that requires a lot of resources. What if we were to redeploy those resources elsewhere?

If national budget talks have taught us anything, it’s that compromises are often necessary. We must give and take to create a favorable outcome. Giving up all fossil fuels overnight is an unrealistic goal. But we can steadily reduce fossil fuel dependence. What if reducing plastic water bottle usage allowed us to ease more slowly into stricter vehicle emissions standards? Eliminating disposable plastic water bottle production could be a good way to reduce oil consumption without asking people to give up their cars. And wouldn’t it be easier (and far less expensive) to switch to carrying a reusable water bottle than to buy an electric vehicle today or to start biking to work from your suburban neighborhood? Don’t get me wrong – we will still need to reduce oil use by our vehicles (and this is already underway with rising electric and hybrid vehicle sales and the increased CAFE standards enacted last year) and make serious efforts to switch to renewable forms of energy (here we are also making slow but steady progress), but these changes will take much more time because cars and energy infrastructure are such large investments. Reducing disposable water bottle usage is something we can do today.

Much like plastic bags, plastic water bottles are convenient, but they are far from a necessity. Reusable water bottles come in a variety of sizes and materials and can just as easily carry filtered water for those who don’t like what comes from the tap.

I love finding small actions that can make a big difference, and reusable water bottles are a perfect example. Switching to reusable water bottles takes only a small effort but can have a lasting impact on the environment. So if you can, try switching to a reusable water bottle today!

A plastic water bottle ban is a small but admirable step toward greening a community, and I hope many more cities will follow in Concord’s footsteps.

Is your city doing anything particularly green? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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