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Almanac Archive for April 19, 2019

Conservation Almanac Special Edition
     West Tisbury Passes First-in-Nation Plastic Bottle Ban
          Bottle Bylaw Comes to Chilmark Next, Along with Other Issues
West Tisbury First in Nation to Ban Plastic Bottles of Water and Soda
Congratulations to the town of West Tisbury and the students of Plastic Free MV! Last week’s vote to ban the sale of water and many other types of drinks packaged in single-use plastic bottles appears to be a first-in-the-nation accomplishment. While several other towns (including four in Massachusetts) already have similar laws regarding bottled water, the bylaw created by the West Tisbury School students would be the first to apply to other types of beverages.
At Town Meeting on April 9, the fifth and sixth graders of Plastic Free MV addressed a packed house of 352 voters. Five members alternated at the microphone to explain the purpose and mechanics of the bylaw.
Sixth-grader Josie Powers introduced the warrant article, describing the students’ motivation: “It often feels like there’s nothing we can do to help our environment, but limiting the amount of single-use plastic bottles is something we can do. When we first learned about what single-use plastic does to humans, fish, and seabirds, as well as its environmental impact and its role in climate change, we knew we had to take action.”
Fifth-grader Tasman Strom added more background information on plastic pollution, noting the recent discovery that plastic had been found in organisms living in the very deepest parts of the world’s oceans. Citing the prediction that by 2050 the ocean could contain more plastic than fish, he stated, “This is not the future we want.”
Sixth-grader Broden Vincent then explained what exactly the bylaw would do: specifically prohibited from sale would be plastic bottles sized 34 ounces or smaller, of water or any beverage containing carbonated water, a sweetener, and/or a flavoring. The rationale for only banning smaller bottles was that many small bottles create more plastic pollution than a smaller number of larger bottles, and that there are readily available alternatives to single-serving bottles.
Though the students were much too young to vote, they made their impact felt on the democratic process. Prior to the introduction of an amendment to the article by Emily Boyd (developed through the group’s discussions with local businesses), fellow fifth grader Emma Bena concluded the group’s presentation with an impassioned plea to town voters to represent the children’s interests: “We are looking to you to make a better future for us all.”
In the months leading up to Town Meeting, the students worked to gain the support of many local businesses who would be impacted by the new restrictions. Along the way, they enlisted the support of VCS; we offered legal, technical, and strategic assistance drawing on our previous effort to ban plastic shopping bags (read why VCS supports the bylaw). Plastic Free MV also caught the attention of the Massachusetts Sierra Club, who gave their endorsement.
Plastic Free MV’s mentor, West Tisbury School teacher Annemarie Ralph, said the students decided to only pursue the ban this year in the three towns in which they live. The two others, Chilmark and Aquinnah, will also decide the issue this spring. The group says they have plans to bring the bylaw before voters in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury next year. 
But for now, West Tisbury can celebrate their town being the first – and only – in the nation to have banned plastic bottles of water and soda. The kids' accomplishment has earned quite a bit of off-Island attention already: we first spotted the story on a TV news broadcast from the Boston NBC affiliate, then a full article in the Boston Globe, followed by a mention in Elspeth Hay's story on recycling difficulties on the Cape. Special thanks here are in order to Thomas Bena and Oliver Becker for their short film documenting the Town Meeting vote and all that led up to it, which was instrumental in getting the word out. 

As Town Meeting Moderator Dan Waters noted, it was an historic turnout on a history-making night.
Town Meeting photos by Rich Saltzberg for MV Times

Environmental Issues Take the Floor at Chilmark Town Meetings
This Monday (April 22nd) several important articles are up for a vote in Chilmark. A Special Town Meeting at 6:30 pm leads off the night with a vote on a single article: the approval of spending $350,000 of the High School’s Excess and Deficiency Funds for the design of athletic facilities, specifically a running track with an artificial turf infield. VCS has repeatedly expressed opposition to the use of artificial turf for playing fields (which are essentially enormous plastic carpets equivalent to millions of the bags and bottles our Island has been working so hard to reduce), both in this space and in testimony to the School Committee.  
At the regular Town Meeting to follow, Article 8 seeks to prohibit the intentional release of lighter-than-air balloons. The bylaw was created last year by another group of students at the West Tisbury School, “Safe Sea MV,” who successfully won passage in 2018 in Aquinnah, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury, but were unable to get the article onto the warrant in time for two Town Meetings. We offered our support and congratulations at the time for that milestone. Now this spring they have the chance to finish the job, already securing passage in Edgartown last week, and now with only Chilmark left to go. With the memories of balloons and their tangled plastic strings still fresh in the voters’ memories from tomorrow’s Earth Day Beach Clean-Up, this one should be an easy call – let’s make it a clean sweep for the Island!
Finally, Article 9 brings the plastic bottle bylaw from the kids of “Plastic Free MV” to the voters of Chilmark. See the story above to learn more about the issue – and what turned out to be an historic night in West Tisbury!

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