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Opinion: Concord bottled water ban would cap freedom of choice

Posted by Leslie Anderson  April 3, 2012 10:43 AM

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Concord has long been hailed the birthplace of liberty in America; a state holiday, Patriots’ Day, celebrates the history of Paul Revere’s ride and the minutemen’s first stand against the British in 1775 each year in the historic town. And yet among this culture of embracing freedom, a misguided campaign threatens one of our most basic civil liberties: consumer choice.

This is the third consecutive year of debate on banning the sale of bottled water in the Town of Concord. The proposal was defeated by Town residents last year and a similar attempt was struck down by Attorney General Coakley two years ago. Proponents of the ban will tell you bottled water is wasteful and harmful to the environment, and banning its sale will reduce unnecessary waste. Unfortunately, this over-reaching measure is returning for a Town vote without proponents considering some important long-term implications. As a concerned parent and resident of Concord, I want to bring some of these concerns to light.

First and foremost, this ban is un-American and a very clear example of government control of commerce. It is not each and every individual town government’s role to decide what products, deemed safe for consumption by the FDA, are available for purchase. If we allow special interest groups to dictate such aspects of our free-market economy, what product is next on the chopping block? Prohibition is heavy handed and goes too far. If you don’t like the idea of bottled water, don’t buy it.

Armed with boatloads of wishful thinking, proponents of the ban have offered absolutely no evidence that this would alleviate the waste they seek to address. Neither environmental nor economic impact studies have been done on this issue. What we do know is that Concord is environmentally conscious already, with a recycling rate in the top 13% in Massachusetts, according to a presentation by Concord Public Works in 2010. That rate continues to improve and reflects a strong culture of personal responsibility in the Town.

As well intentioned as it is, this fanciful idea that banning bottled water’s sale will wipe out its existence in Concord also excludes the many people seeking bottled water who will drive to stores outside of Concord, burning more fossil fuels and going against the “Keep it local!” message supported by so many environmentalists.

Banning the sale of a safe, legal product puts retailers within town limits at a competitive disadvantage. Customers like the taste, healthiness and convenience of bottled water and will go elsewhere to find it. They will inevitably buy other items outside of Concord, hurting local businesses. It is short-sighted to ignore economic considerations.

Proponents of the ban also ignore how much proposed “filling stations” for reusable bottles will cost the Town. The National Park Service just spent $290,000 installing 10 filling stations in Grand Canyon National Park. Will a similar burden befall Concord tax payers, who would simultaneously lose sales taxes that once contributed to our tax base?

What’s more, this limitation of consumer choice takes the most healthy beverage option off store shelves in a time where we face obesity and diabetes epidemics nationwide. Having raised five children, I cringe at the idea of school children being forced to drink sugar-laden drinks such as soda and juice because of restricted choices.

Other beverage options also typically come in more plastic-intensive packaging. The bottled water industry is a known leader in “lightweighting,” or designing products that use less material to achieve the same purpose, and yet we are singling this product out for ostensibly environmental reasons. Plastic packaging is here to stay; Concord residents’ time, and our Town resources, would be better spent on education and promotion of recycling programs.

Last, but not least, don’t forget about disaster preparedness. You may recall the water main break in Boston less than two years ago that left nearly 2 million Massachusetts residents without potable drinking water. The bottled water industry responded with lightening speed to deliver free, donated water. What message of appreciation does this send? Will bottled water be so easy to acquire if it is banned in town?

Though the proposed ban cites a carve-out for emergency situations, I have little confidence in the Town’s ability to handle such a situation and can only imagine the enormous expense of such a wasteful exercise.

Enough is enough. This ban is not an appropriate avenue for attaining sustainability and infringes on our rights. When this issue comes to a vote in April, I hope each resident of Concord will come show their support for basic civil liberties and common sense, and vote against the ban on bottled water.

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