Plastic Water Bottle Ban to be Pulled from Town Meeting

May 1, 2024
• Following its single-use plastic bag ban passed last year, Green Needham’s effort to remove more plastics from town faced criticism, leading petitioners to pull back their proposed bylaw.

After consulting with local business owners and residents, the proponents received “mixed feedback” about banning plastic water bottles and expressed concern that the petition would otherwise not pass Town Meeting with that stipulation in place, they wrote in an email. For that reason, references to water bottles have been removed from the article.

The petition proposes that polystyrene, plastic stirrers and plastic splash guards be banned starting Jan. 1 of next year. Along with that, plastic straws would be banned unless requested. Under the original petition, plastic water bottles 1 liter or smaller would have been banned beginning Jan. 1 2026.

Their proposed amendment would come with additional changes, including a looser definition of polystyrene — like Styrofoam — and a change to the associated fees to align with the new fee structure passed last year. Each offense would be $100.

In a presentation to the Select Board March 26, Green Needham’s Kathy Raiz and Rob Fernandez shared that some businesses expressed support for the ban, while others seemed hesitant. At the time, they had heard from nine establishments.

“Some of them are concerned about the water bottles and the cost differential between the plastic bottles versus bringing in alternatives,” Raiz said at the meeting. “But at the same time, many of them were willing to look at alternatives to see if they could potentially make something work.”

That cost differential is stark: a 16-oz plastic water bottle costs 20 cents, whereas a 12-oz aluminum water bottle costs $1 for Needham Public Schools, Raiz said during the meeting. Research shows, however, that hundreds of thousands of nanoplastics can be found in bottled water, which poses a “serious health concern,” Raiz said.

The group met with several business owners through the Charles River Regional Chamber last month to garner additional feedback on the petition.

While the chamber recognizes the effects of plastics on the environment and public health, President and CEO Greg Reibman said “there really is not a great viable alternative to water in bottles at this point.” Distributors often require restaurants purchase a larger quantity of product, which then causes storage problems on top of economic ones, Reibman said.

He supports and endorses the recent efforts to alter the petition, eliminating the plastic water bottle ban.

“The challenge here is that we know that there needs to be a solution to water in plastic bottles, but the problem lies with the distributors, large companiesIt felt really unfair to me that we were penalizing the folks at the very end of that supply chain, which is the small businesses here,” Reibman said, “because they have no control over what’s available in the supply chain.”

Other communities in Massachusetts, including several on the Cape, have banned plastic bottles, but for now, Needham will not join them. In an emailed statement, Green Needham wrote it “will continue to evaluate additional ways to reduce single-use plastics in Needham.”

“We are passionate about this issue because we are concerned about our children and future generations,” Green Needham wrote. “As parents, we feel it is our duty to protect our kids and ensure they inherit a healthy and sustainable planet.”

The Select Board previously voted to recommend the petition’s adoption in a 4-1 vote, but with the amendments, the board unanimously supported it. State Sen. Becca Rausch introduced “An Act to reduce plastics” to the legislature last year, which would, if acted upon, forbid the sale of plastic water bottles that are 1 liter or smaller except in emergencies.

With under a week until the first night of Town Meeting, the Select Board discussed other last-minute adjustments to the warrant at its Tuesday meeting.

One major change is the $2.6 million allocation to the construction and renovation of the Needham High School tennis courts. Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick said the town recommends the article be withdrawn by the Park and Recreation Commission, as permitting has not been completed and questions about the project remain.

The commission will meet Wednesday, where members are expected to vote to remove the article. Fitzpatrick said the project could move out of this funding cycle and instead be funded in the fall.

“We think that we just need a couple of more months,” Fitzpatrick said, “[and] hope that we can bring this to Town Meeting in October so they can be constructed in the construction season after the tennis season in ’25.”

The courts would have been funded with $1.44 million from Community Preservation Act funds, $149,196 from the overlay surplus and another $10,804 from a 2015 Annual Town Meeting article. Another $1 million would come out of the Athletic Facility Stabilization Fund.

Deputy Town Manager and Director of Finance David Davison recommended the overlay surplus and that $10,804 be put toward the borrowed $1.6 million for the public works building, with CPA funds covering the additional balance. The Finance Committee will need to vote on whether to recommend the new appropriation.

The Planning Board is still overseeing a public hearing on the tennis courts, which continues to May 14.

In another change, the $1,275,000 for a new fire truck would be financed through free cash instead of borrowing the sum.

A citizen’s petition to rescind the $2.5 million debt authorization may also be removed prior to Town Meeting, as the Select Board already inserted an article calling for the same thing. On the two other citizen’s petitions — redefining “floor area ratio” and funding a consultant on the MBTA Communities Act — the board voted not to recommend adoption of either.

The Needham Contributory Retirement Board voted to withdraw an article that would fund $3,000 stipends for its members. Though the stipend is state-mandated, town officials expressed concern over the fact that the stipend would be larger than the one the Select Board receives.

In a letter to the Select Board dated April 17, Retirement Board Chair Sandy Cincotta acknowledged that stipend difference and shared that the board voted 4-1 to withdraw.

“We realize that timing is everything and now is not the time for such a request,” Cincotta wrote. “We will review this subject if and when the timing seems appropriate.”

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