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Six Cape Towns Ban the Sale of Single Use Water Bottles

Eve Zuckoff
At a Walgreens in Falmouth, shelves are cleared out on Aug. 30

A new rule goes into effect today in half a dozen Cape towns that prohibits the sale of single-use plastic water bottles. This is the first wave of these new bans and other Cape towns will follow suit this fall and winter. And it's part of an effort by local nonprofit to reduce plastic waste that ends up in landfills, or worse, in microscopic pieces that can harm animals, the environment and maybe even humans. CAI's Eve Zuckoff has been reporting on this and spoke with Kathryn Eident on the topic.

Kathryn: Morning, Eve.

Eve: Hi there, Kathryn.

Kathryn: Eve, first I want to talk about what the ban means, this is about water, as I said, in single-use bottles, and the ban is happening in six towns.

Eve: Yeah, that's right. So what the ban does is it eliminates the sale of non-carbonated, non-flavored water in single-use, plastic water bottles of less than a gallon in size. So we're talking, like, you go into a convenience store and you're not going to be able to go into the cooler and pick up an Aquafina bottle, or even go into the grocery store and pick up a pack of 24 individually packaged Poland Springs. And these bans begin today in Brewster, Wellfleet, Provincetown, Harwich, Orleans, Falmouth, and other towns are going to follow. And these bans are happening because an environmental group called Sustainable Practices crafted the language that they then put on town meeting warrants. And they've just been very successful at turning the Cape town-by-town into kind of a regional leader in reducing plastic waste.

Kathryn: What kinds of reactions have there been to this change? I'm thinking, you know, of visitors who might be popping into, you know, the Cumberland Farms or something like that for a bottle of water or someone who just habitually picks up water with their coffee every day.

Eve: Yeah, as to be expected, not everyone is happy about this. I actually spoke with a customer service leader at Cumberland Farms in Falmouth named Cassandra Cann, and she said that they've stopped getting deliveries of water bottles. Now they're just selling out of what they have. But she's worried about how this change could affect business. I mean, maybe, as you said, maybe people will come in for a bottle of water and just walk back out.

Cassandra Cann: "You know, I’ve heard it all from the customers. Some people just say, 'oh, OK.’ And then they move on. But then other people are like, ‘what? Why?’”

Kathryn: So some people might be wondering why water instead of soda?

Eve: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, Sustainable Practices says it's because you can still get water by filling up a reusable bottle at a tap or buying more than a gallon. Also, they say water is 60 percent of the beverage market. So they're going to take a big chunk out of the single-use plastic industry by targeting water bottles.

Kathryn: Hmm. So if the goal is to reduce the amount of the single-use plastic from ending up in landfills, why didn't the members of this group Sustainable Practices go for recycling programs? Why did they go for this ban on the sale of bottles?

Eve: Yeah, it's a good point, but Sustainable Practices and in turn, all these towns that have voted for the bands are arguing that plastic is an issue not just at disposal, but during its entire lifecycle. Plastic production has a high carbon footprint and the material can leach chemicals into food, drinks, toys, so of Madhavi Venkatesan with Sustainable Practices says really the perception that recycling is a salve is obscuring the whole issue. This is a little bit of what she said.

Madhavi Venkatesan: "We can say nine percent of all plastic has been recycled, 12 percent incinerated, and … over 70 percent landfill, the remaining portion just being somewhere in the environment."

Eve: So the group really feels that a ban on single-use plastic water bottles goes to more of the root of the problem rather than just dealing with it as trash at the end of the line.

It’s also worth noting that towns included a exemption: if the availability and/or quality of drinking water in a town is a problem, and an emergency is declared, then people will be able to buy water bottles.

Kathryn: Right. Like 70 percent going to landfill. It's just like a fraction of the plastic we use actually ends up being recycled. That's a that's a big number there. So how do all towns enforce this ban?

Eve: Yeah, well, the bylaw puts it in town manager's hands to enforce, so it'll be handled differently in different towns if stores aren't complying. But there is a fine schedule. Stores could be forced to pay up to $300 per day if they have multiple violations.

Kathryn: So just to kind of recap, Eve:, six Cape towns have this ban going into effect today on the sale of single-use plastic water bottles and other towns on the Cape will follow. Eventually, nearly all of the Cape towns will have a ban like this,

Eve: Right, 10 out of 15, that's what it's looking like, though more towns will consider the ban in the coming year. And we have a full list online of the towns and when the bans are going into effect.

Kathryn: Eve Zuckoff, thanks so much for your reporting on this.

Eve: Thanks, Kathryn.

Single-Use Plastic Water Bottle Ban Schedule: 

Falmouth — Sept. 1, 2021

Harwich — Sept. 1, 2021

Brewster — Sept. 1, 2021

Orleans — Sept. 1, 2021

Wellfleet — Sept. 1, 2021

Provincetown — Sept. 1, 2021

Eastham — Sept. 21, 2021

Chatham — Dec. 31, 2021

Dennis — Dec. 31, 2021

Sandwich — Dec. 31, 2021

Mashpee — Town votes on commercial single-use plastic water bottle ban Oct. 28, 2021 at Town Meeting. If approved, it would go into effect Sept. 30, 2022.

Yarmouth — Vote on commercial single-use plastic water bottle ban failed during town meeting in May.

The issue has not yet gone before town meeting in Bourne and Truro, nor has it gone before Barnstable Town Council.