Falmouth Town Meeting, September 14, 2020

Falmouth Town Meeting was held in the field house at Falmouth High School. Masks were worn by all in attendance, and seating was set up according to social distancing guidelines.

Falmouth Town Meeting banned the commercial sale of single-use plastic water bottles on Monday, September 14.

The petition article, submitted by Christine Kircun of Sidewinder Road in East Falmouth, was part of the Cape Plastic Bottle Ban initiative by Sustainable Practices. Similar bans were approved by town meetings in Brewster and Wellfleet on Saturday, September 12.

“The perfect time to do this has passed,” Ms. Kircun said. “That was 15 to 20 years ago. We need to see plastic water bottles for what they are: a convenience item that contributes to climate changes, exposes us to an array of chemicals upon consumption and is not something that can be effectively solved with recycling.”

She said everyone present is aware of how overconsumption of single-use plastics is detrimental to health and the environment, and shared some statistics to demonstrate her point. Only 9 percent of the 8.3 million metric tons of single-use plastic water bottles produced have been recycled.

“For the last 70 years, bottlers such as Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Keurig Dr. Pepper have shown relative indifference to the plastic pollution problem,” Ms. Kircun said. “They have marketed the organizations they created, such as Keep America Beautiful and The Recycling Partnership, as being a solution. These organizations are greenwashing at best and exist to facilitate business as usual for plastic bottle manufacturers and the companies reliant on them.”

Several Town Meeting members spoke in support of the ban. Noting that he used to use single-use plastic water bottles, Joseph A. Netto, Precinct Nine, held up a refillable water bottle to show he has already made the switch.

“What caught my eye here tonight, and I think we got to take a look at who is passionate about promoting this article,” Mr. Netto said. “Look at them, there and there. They’re the young people. You know why they’re so adamant and passionate about passing this for the Town of Falmouth? Because they want a better environment than what our generation has left them. Look at what we have done. We’re a tourist community, you’re darn right we’re a tourist community, and what tourist community are we going to be with a rising sea level when we have no beaches?”

He said the bylaw is an example of thinking globally and acting locally.

Erika Edwards, Precinct Nine, said while a single-use plastic bottle ban sounds like a national or global issue, it is also a local one.

“Humans buy 1 million plastic bottles per minute,” Ms. Edwards said. “Sixty to 80 percent of marine debris is plastic waste. That’s 1 million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals killed per year. That is 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of all crustaceans, sea turtles and a growing list of fish. That’s everything we eat. We live in a coastal community. We should want to protect our oceans.”

In addition to protecting wildlife, Deborah Siegal, Precinct 6, said the ban protects people.

“If your only concern is human animals, we now know that chemicals leeching from microplastics, both onto land and into the oceans, have a far greater impact on our health than previously thought,” Ms. Siegal said. “Our planet is not expendable, but we have constructed a throwaway culture for the convenience of the individual. If we have that power, then we must bear the responsibility that goes along with it to clean up our messes.”

Scott Ghelfi, Precinct Eight, owner of Ghelfi’s Candies of Cape Cod, spoke against the ban.

“As a small-business owner that has already suffering financially as a result of a pandemic, taking away a solid revenue stream at this time would be like throwing salt in the wound,” Mr. Ghelfi said.

Noting he has been in business in Falmouth for 33 years, he said he sells water bottles in addition to ice cream and candies.

“Sales of individual water bottles are a very good revenue stream for me with a very strong profit margin,” Mr. Ghelfi said. “Without a reasonable replacement to offer my customers, I feel this ban is unreasonable, and more so during these difficult times.”

Saying he looked into alternatives, he found boxed water is eight times the cost, and water in aluminum cans is five times the cost.

Several Town Meeting members suggested selling refillable water bottles as an alternative.

“For businesses who sell these, and I know that Mr. Ghelfi just spoke about this, and he is in my mind as well, it would be beneficial for these businesses, economically, and certainly a lot safer for the environment, to sell reusable water bottles made from recycled stainless steel,” said Linda D. Whitehead, Precinct One. “Financially, businesses that have switched to these have done very well, with creative motifs on them.”

Mark A. Mancini, Precinct Eight, said the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the potential dangers of such a ban. While the bylaw allows for the sale of water bottles during an emergency, Mr. Mancini said, businesses might not be able to get water bottles to sell.

“I just want to remind everyone what happened just a few months ago when this whole pandemic started,” he said. “We ran out of toilet paper instantly. We ran out of PPE (personal protective equipment). If you don’t have any water bottles in this town, is the town going to be able to supply us with water when there is an emergency? It’s not going to be able to.”

Noting he uses a reusable bottle, he asked what the town would do if there is an emergency at the water treatment plant and stores do not have water bottles to sell.

Gina C. Webber, Precinct Nine, agreed, saying stores would face challenges getting these items during an emergency.

“In addition to that, I do love the water refilling stations, but unfortunately, every time there is an issue with the water quality in town, those filters to those water filling stations are not automatically replaced,” Ms. Webber said.

Susan L. Shephard, Precinct One, said the ban only affects single-use plastic bottles. Stores will still be able to stock gallon jugs of water.

“We need to change our use of plastic. Litter is not the first issue. It’s how much plastic we are putting into the waste stream, and we have to deal with that,” she said.

Michael D. Zmuda, Precinct Three, said the town voted on a statewide ballot question seeking to establish a deposit for single-use plastic bottles in 2014. In addition to failing statewide, 69 percent of Falmouth voters voted against a deposit.

“While the municipal water ban effects very few people, this ban is going to effect everybody in town,” Mr. Zmuda said. “This body does have a lot of wisdom. It takes a lot of responsibility for the rest of the people of the town. I would support indefinite postponement and would like to see the selectmen put a nonbinding question on the ballot in May for the full vote of the town. If the town votes for it, it comes back to Town Meeting, and we serve the will of the people.”

Town Meeting passed the ban on the commercial sale of single-use plastic water bottles on a voice vote. The ban goes into effect on September 1, 2021. Businesses that violate the bylaw are subject to a written warning on their first violation, a $150 fine on their second violation and a $300 fine on their third and subsequent violations.

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