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Concord bans water in plastic bottles

CONCORD - Residents here voted Wednesday night to ban the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles, bringing the town a step closer to becoming the first municipality in the nation to enact such a sweeping prohibition on sales.

After a two-hour debate at the annual Town Meeting on the proposal, which bans the sale of bottles smaller than 1 liter, cheers erupted when residents approved the measure by an 81-vote margin. The final tally after a recount was a slimmer margin of 403 to 364.

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Jean Hill, 84, who spearheaded the effort and two prior failed attempts to ban the bottles, was elated after the vote.

“I’m so proud of the town,’’ she said.

But Jim Crosby, manager of Crosby’s Marketplace on Sudbury Road, said the ban would hurt his business for little benefit. He showed slides during the meeting of products made from recycled water bottles, including a North Face jacket, Mohawk carpeting, shopping bags, and office supplies.

“Plastic is not going away,’’ he said, adding that he encourages recycling and education.

Supporters of the ban say it will help the environment and limit consumers’ exposure to toxic chemicals. But critics fear it will harm businesses when residents cross town lines to purchase bottled water.

Opponents also say the ban could embroil the town in costly litigation and represents an attack on personal freedom.

A similar ban was approved at Town Meeting in 2010 but later was shot down by the state attorney general’s office, which found that it was not written as a valid bylaw.

It was revised and resubmitted last spring, but was defeated by a margin of seven votes. The latest version is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, pending approval from the attorney general’s office, which reviews all bylaws adopted at town meetings to ensure they conform to state law.

Under terms of the ban, stores would receive a warning for the first offense, a $25 fine for the second, and $50 for each subsequent infraction.

The ban would be suspended during emergencies. Selectmen can also hold a hearing to suspend the bylaw indefinitely.

Though no other US city or town has enacted a complete ban on sales, a number of cities have passed less-sweeping measures, according to the US Conference of Mayors.

Betsy Levinson can be reached at betsy.levinson@gmail.com. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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