Bottle ban faces 2nd attack in Great Barrington; water refill stations on the way

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GREAT BARRINGTON — As a controversial bylaw faces a new attack, the group behind legislation that bans the sale of small plastic water bottles announced that it has raised enough money for three water bottle-refill stations in town.

And the Select Board agreed unanimously Monday to approve the stations purchased by the Environment Committee of the Berkshire Women's Action Group, and take on future maintenance beyond the first year.

Jennifer Clark of the Action Group told the Select Board on Monday the group is paying the town's Department of Public Works to install the stations, which will go in front of Town Hall, the Mason Library, and the Housie Dome in Housatonic.

The installations could happen as early as June.

It's part of a plan approved by voters last year to both eliminate waste from single-use bottles of still water, 1 liter or less, and to provide residents and visitors with options around town to refill their own.

It is the first such bylaw in Berkshire County and the fourth ban in the U.S., inspired by a spiraling plastic waste crisis amid low recycling rates and concerns about the safety of bottled water. The bylaw calls for exceptions to be made for emergencies.

But the ban has stung some local retailers.

The popular small-sized bottle is a bread-and-butter item throughout the year, they say. This prompted a challenge to approval of the ban at 2018 annual town meeting. Opponents got enough signatures to hold a revote at a special town meeting in August. That meeting kept the ban in place with a 296-to-199 secret ballot vote.

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Now opponents are trying again. A citizen's petition filed with the town asks voters to repeal the ban at the upcoming May 6 annual town meeting.

But the ban has also received wide support from shop owners. More than 25 have joined the GB on Tap program, and said they would be willing to host refill stations.

All three units are expected to cost about $8,600, according to Berkshire Women's Action Group member Marj Wexler. Maintenance will cost $175 per unit annually. For the Housatonic station, the needed filter will cost $115 annually. Housatonic Water Works is not charging for the water at the station in Housatonic, and Clark said the group will ask that the Great Barrington Fire District Water Company also not charge for stations in town.

But enforcement has been a sticking point.

The ban took effect Jan. 1, but enforcement was pushed to May 2020 to leave time for installation of the refill stations, and plan for these long-term maintenance costs.

Yet having to wait more than a year has frustrated some.

Clark said misinformation about the enforcement date could create competition between retailers, since some may have stopped selling the bottles, while others still are.

The Action Group, she said, had found that about half of all shops and eateries are not yet in compliance.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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