Rockport bans plastic water bottles, food wares starting in 2021 

CNHI file photo/The sale of water in plastic bottles will be banned in Rockport beginning in 2021 after a vote by Town Meeting on Monday night.

ROCKPORT — Town Meeting has updated Rockport's environmental protection and public heath bylaws by banning single-use food wares and disposable water bottles from being distributed around town.

Town Meeting on Monday night approved Article K, the food wares ban, 179-31, and Article M, the water bottle ban, 150-52. The town already bans thin-film plastic bags

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, eateries will need to switch out "all food and beverage containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups, lids, straws, forks, sporks, knives, film wrap," according to the new bylaw. On the same day, shopkeepers will need to begin selling water in bottles that are 100 percent compostable or at least 50 percent biodegradable. For example, some water brands offer portable single-use boxes that are typically made from paper or reused materials.

The language for both bylaws argues that plastics contribute  to "pollution of the land environment, waterways, and oceans," contribute "to the harm and premature death of marine animals through ingestion" and add "to landfills and contribute to the release of toxins and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere when eventually incinerated." 

Both articles were spearheaded by Seaside Sustainability, the Rockport High School Green Team, Selectwoman Denise Donnelly and Health Agent Leslie Whelan. Last year, the group drafted the thin-film plastic bag ban that was approved by Town Meeting. Enforcement for that ban began in March. 

During public comment Monday, some residents questioned why only water bottles were being banned. Eric Magers, director of Seaside Sustainability, said restricting the scope of Article M was "the toe-dip solution as opposed to (banning) all drink bottles."

With these two articles passed, "we have one of the most comprehensive single-use plastic bans in the country," Magers said of Rockport. "In one fell swoop we banned 15 items. I think passing bylaws and ordinances at the local level is the best way to get plastics out of our environment." 

Originally, three proposed bans were on the Town Meeting warrant. Article L asked the town to ban inflated balloons from being sold in Rockport. According to the article, "(balloons and their accompanying ribbons) are often released and fall into the sea, thus contributing to marine debris. The deflated balloons can resemble jellyfish, a common prey item for sea turtles and other marine animals." Ultimately, Town Meeting passed over it without a motion.

Magers said the drafters had issues with how the article was written and decided to pull it from Town Meeting discussion. They plan on presenting a rewritten version at next April's Town Meeting.

Over the summer, members of the Green Team visited various Rockport businesses to get them up-to-speed on the bans before the enforcement date.  A similar education campaign was put on before the plastic bag ban was enforced.

"I think its very important to continuously step away from single-use (plastics)," said Magers. Although the bans are not a complete fix for a healthier environment, "It's a step in the right direction. The major goal is to ban all single-use (plastics) and create a culture around reuse." 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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