April 6, 2023 By John Borger, Hingham Net Zero
Cleaner Greener Hingham (officially designated as the Long Range Waste Disposal and Recycling Committee) is a chartered Town committee of citizen volunteers whose mission is to reduce environmental pollution, identify sustainable solutions for recycling and waste management, and encourage related best practices in Town through education and bylaw proposals. The Committee is proposing a new bylaw to be considered at the April 24th Town Meeting (Warrant Article 25) which would eliminate the sale in Hingham of unflavored, non-carbonated water in single-use plastic bottles sized under one gallon.
Hingham Net Zero supports this bylaw because the production, transportation and disposal of this high volume plastic, which is made from crude oil, contributes avoidable emissions and the bottle initiative is aligned with HNZ’s mission to fight climate change at the local level.
Only a small percentage of these bottles end up being recycled. Discontinuing at least two single-use plastic items enhances Hingham’s ongoing participation in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Recycling Dividend Program (RDP). Through that program, Hingham earns points for implementing recommended recycling-related measures. The points translate into funding from the Commonwealth for Hingham to further invest in recycling programs. Passing a bylaw eliminating two single use items follows guidance from the Massachusetts Solid Waste Master Plan and will earn the Town 2 RDP points for each year we have the bylaws in effect. This latest proposal is a companion initiative to the already implemented discontinuation of plastic bag use. The two measures in combination will meet DEP program requirements for additional points.
As we strive to be better caretakers of this planet we are bequeathing future generations, it’s easy to fall prey to an all-or-nothing mentality which insists on comprehensive solutions and rejects smaller initiatives that offer incremental progress. In this mode of thinking, we can always find reasons not to do worthwhile things.Listening to discussions of CGHs plastic bottle initiative, we’ve heard certain objections that deserve public airing. After thoughtful consideration, here’s where we land on these concerns:
1. Why not just go ahead and ban all plastic containers? This would unquestionably be the ideal solution but would entail vast changes throughout the complex packaging supply chain, which no single entity controls. It would probably only be feasible at a regional or national level. Meanwhile, nineteen other Massachusetts communities have already discontinued the sale of single use plastic water bottles, with minimal disruption. Its feasibility has been amply demonstrated.
2. Why not defer this initiative until hydration stations are available throughout Hingham? Who will determine when a critical mass of hydration stations have been installed, how long will it take, how much will it cost and who will pay for it? Most important – is this really necessary before we act? Our own water utility, the Weir River Water System, is supplying high quality potable water right now – it’s available through every cold water faucet in the Town. Hingham is in an ideal position to proceed with this initiative now. Meanwhile, recognizing that enhanced convenience will facilitate the transition, the Town Sustainability Coordinator has just applied for grant money to get started with Town hydration stations.
3. Won’t we be inconveniencing Hingham consumers? There seems little difference between going to a store, buying a case or two of single-serving plastic water bottles and icing them in coolers, versus filling reusable jugs with chilled tap water and bringing them along with biodegradable, recyclable paper cups to athletic contests and other events. Many of us routinely carry refillable personal water bottles. We bring reusable bags to grocery stores in lieu of relying upon retailers to dispense plastic bags – a behavior change we have already successfully navigated with minimal disruption and widespread voluntary cooperation.
4. Isn’t bottled water superior to Hingham’s tap water? No. The Massachusetts government flatly states “The public water supplies in Massachusetts are among the best in the country. They are subject to the most stringent government standards in the world.” I’m drinking Hingham tap water right now. It’s crystal-clear and tastes fine. But please note – the by-law permits the sale of one gallon or larger sizes, so consumers who prefer bottled water will still be accommodated.
5. Won’t Hingham consumers just go to neighboring communities and buy single-use plastic bottles of water there? Some may, and that’s fine. But our experience is that most people in Hingham are more than willing to make reasonable life-style adjustments in order to fight climate change and reduce environmental degradation. They embraced elimination of plastic bags and we anticipate a similar response to this initiative. Retailers appreciate the opportunity to serve Hingham’s prosperous consumers and will comply just as they did with plastic bags. Plus, neighboring communities may well emulate Hingham’s example with their own initiatives. This is the way change happens.
6. What about public service crews from the Light Plant and Town departments working long hours outside in intense heat? How about other workers and emergency situations? In lieu of a separate by-law governing Town purchasing, the Hingham Town Administrator and Select Board have elected to adopt an administrative policy for the Town to generally not buy single-use plastic water bottles. However, the policy will be sufficiently flexible to accommodate reasonable exceptions as needed. Other workers such as landscapers and construction workers would still be free to use whatever water containers they prefer and would still be able to buy one gallon or larger bottles of water in town.
Cleaner Greener Hingham’s plastic bottle initiative is a modest, doable step in the right direction. It requires minor behavior changes. Let’s continue to make progress in reducing carbon emissions and conserving our environment. Please join us in voting YES on Article 25 at Town Meeting on Monday, April 24th at 7:00PM!
-John Borger, Hingham Net Zero