Environmental advocates filed a petition on Monday, July 12, that, if approved by Town Meeting in October, would make it illegal to sell single-use plastic water bottles in Mashpee.
Last October, Mashpee became the 13th town on Cape Cod to approve a ban on the sale or use of single-use plastic water bottles by the town government. All 15 towns on Cape Cod have since approved some version of the municipal ban, with 10, including Falmouth and Sandwich, now having approved the commercial ban.
“Plastics pollute and impact our environment across their lifecycle, from production to use to disposal,” the petition said. “Elimination of the use of single-use plastic water bottles will have a significant impact on future plastic-based pollution, including the nation’s greenhouse gas footprint, and is consistent with protection of the natural environment in Mashpee, Barnstable County, our nation and our earth.”
More than 1,500 single-use plastic waters are used and discarded per second in the United States, the petition said.
“Pollution is just such an issue,” said Virginia Scharfenberg, one of the residents who signed the petition. “When you look at the larger picture, the problem is much more significant than we might think in our own little locality, in our own little neighborhood; it adds up.”
Ms. Scharfenberg noted that “there is so little an individual can really have an impact on” and that many environmentally conscious individuals already take steps to reduce their use of plastics and other pollutants.
With the commercial ban gaining traction on Cape Cod, the petition can “help Mashpee join the whole community in doing what is environmentally responsible,” she said. “There is something very good about consistency with all of the towns on the Cape; Cape Cod is a real model for the whole country.”
Madhavi Venkatesan, the executive director and founder of Sustainable Practices, a nonprofit that pushed the municipal ban starting in 2019 and the commercial ban starting in 2020, said “it’s not a litter issue.”
“There is an industry push on the part of large bottle companies, particularly Coca-Cola, to make these plastic bottles seem like a recycling and littering issue,” Ms. Venkatesan said. “These plastic bottles come at a huge resource impact for the planet and your own health.”
When the entire lifecycle of a plastic bottle—from production to disposal—is taken into consideration, the impacts are more widespread than just litter created when the bottle is improperly disposed of, she said.
Fossil fuels used in the production of plastic bottles come increasingly from hydraulic fracking, which can strain and contaminate water supplies and harm the environment, and factories that produce plastic bottles release chemicals that cause higher rates of cancer in adjacent communities, Ms. Venkatesan said.
“Right there in the production zone you have this issue,” she said.
Then, on the “consumption level, these plastic bottles are really thin and they are known to leach chemicals into the water,” especially when exposed to heat, Ms. Venkatesan said.
“The reason we went after plastic water bottles is because it is the most ubiquitous,” she said. “We have tap water available.”
Bottled water ends up exporting water from elsewhere, and unlike tap water, which municipalities test for contaminants, the possible contaminants in bottled water are harder to identify, said Ms. Venkatesan, who is a professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston. Importing bottled water can also decrease the focus on protecting local water supplies, she said.
Finally, when water bottles are disposed of they release harmful chemicals if they are incinerated, break down into microplastics if they end up in a landfill or the environment, and are exported to other countries if they are recycled, Ms. Venkatesan said.
The proposed ban would apply to water sold in bottles smaller than one gallon and includes exceptions for emergencies. Penalties include a written warning for the first violation, $150 fine for the second violation and $300 fine for all subsequent violations. Each day that a violation continues would constitute a separate violation under the proposed bylaw.
Bans of disposable products have gained traction in local communities in recent months and years. A ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages sold in “nip” bottles went into effect this month in Mashpee, and a similar ban is set to take effect in Falmouth later this year.
In October 2019, Mashpee Town Meeting voted 132 to 98 against a ban on polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products and also voted down a ban on plastic straws.