May 24, 2018 — Belmont Citizen-Herald
It finally happened. Despite having shivered through a 47-degree game-time temperature at a recent Red Sox game, spring has finally sprung in Belmont. There have been a sufficient number of warm days in a row that I decided to finally pack away the snow shovels for another year. If it snows in mid-May or later, I figured that a day or two of sun would soon melt it all off my driveway.
All this was occurring at the same time that Town Meeting was debating whether to ban the use of thin film plastic bags at stores in Belmont. That ban got me to thinking about other aspects of “being green” in Belmont. Town Meeting’s overwhelming approval of the plastic bag ban certainly makes it appear that a sizable portion of Belmont’s population believes that it is not merely appropriate, but necessary, to make collective decisions to preserve the environment that we will hand over to our kids and grandkids.
And, as so frequently seems to happen, I began to worry about how things all fit together. I enthusiastically supported the ban on plastic bags. Even if one wasn’t convinced by the presentation made by Linda Levin-Scherz at Town Meeting, it would be impossible to ignore the study just published which found microscopic bits of plastic not only in the waters of the Great Lakes, but, heaven forbid, also in the beer that is brewed using water from the Great Lakes. Active steps are needed.
What I worry about is whether people believe too ardently in the notion that government action, such as a ban on plastic bags, is the remedy of first resort to environmental degradation. All sorts of individual decisions get made in Belmont that result in either contributing to the problem of environmental degradation or contribute to mitigating environmental degradation. It is each person’s choice to be part of the problem or to be part of the solution.
And that brings me back to my snow-shovels. Allowing the sun to melt any snowfall on my driveway will, under ordinary circumstances, result in a water run-off from my driveway. That runoff occurs not simply due to snow melt, but also from any rain storm that passes through Belmont. An asphalt driveway, which is known as an impermeable surface, directs the water runoff to the streets. The runoff is then captured by the town’s storm drains rather than being absorbed on your property. As the runoff is directed into the storm drains, the pollutants that the water picks up along the way are also directed into our region’s water systems.
If that water runoff could instead be absorbed on your property, the ground would serve to filter out those pollutants rather than directing them into our waterways. Accordingly, if you plan to repave your driveway this summer, one of the “greener” decisions you can make –for your community, your state, your world– is to consider the use of a permeable surface. Given that you’re going to spend a lot of the winter time dealing with snow (whether by shovel, or snow-blower, or a hired truck with a plow), a permeable surface such as crushed stone probably isn’t an option.
Other permeable options exist, however. Using pavers is one alternative. Permeable concrete is another alternative. Permeable concrete allows water to be absorbed rather than having it runoff to the storm drains. It matters not whether the water is the result of snow melt or a rain storm. In an urban area such as Boston, permeable paving options have increasingly become available as an alternative to traditional paving.
The point is that it is not simply town government’s responsibility to help maintain the water quality in our surrounding waterways. Each individual also has a responsibility to make personal decisions that will make our community greener. It is great that Town Meeting voted to ban the use of thin film plastic bags in our community. But that governmental decision does not relieve any of us from also making sure that our own individual choices also take environmental consequences into account.