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"Plastic Free MV" and the Plastic Bottle Bylaw

April 2022 update:
With the passage of the bottle bylaw in Edgartown, the kids of "Plastic Free MV" have succeeded in all six towns. It took a while (no thanks to Covid), but for the kids of Plastic Free MV it's a clean sweep: an Island-wide plastic bottle ban!

Read our recap of 2019 Town Meeting season, which concluded with a challenging, tense, and ultimately inspirational night in Aquinnah. Congrats!

Consistent with the objectives of the VCS "Take Back the Tap" initiative, a student group at the West Tisbury School has taken an ambitious step toward reducing the waste associated with disposable plastics. Led by teacher and adviser Annemarie Ralph, the fifth and sixth grade students of "Plastic Free MV" have created a bylaw that would ban the sale of many types of single-use plastic bottles. Deciding that the best strategy was to start close to home before taking the bylaw Island-wide, the students have placed the bylaw on the Town Meeting warrants in just the three towns in which they live: West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. 

In short, the proposed bylaw would ban the sale of water and soft drinks packaged in plastic bottles sized 1 liter and under. Though that is a broad category of items, there is a similarly broad collection of alternatives available: single-serving drinks are available in aluminum cans and glass bottles (as well as other non-plastic packaging), and bottled water in larger sizes would still be allowed. Limiting a ban to smaller size packages is a sensible measure for waste reduction because there is considerably less plastic used in a large jug than in the equivalent number of single-serving bottles. 

Disposable water bottles have already been banned in several cities and towns across the nation, including four in Massachusetts (Concord, Sudbury, Lincoln, and Great Barrington). However, the bold kids of Plastic Free MV are aiming even higher: their measure would be the first in the nation to also ban single-serving plastic bottles of soda. It's a bold move, and an exciting accomplishment for the kids. 

Technical Resources:

(a list created by Plastic Free MV)

Bylaw text West Tisbury
Bylaw text Chilmark
Bylaw text Aquinnah

Thoughts from the Vineyard Conservation Society on the Plastic Free MV Bylaw 

This bylaw to reduce disposable plastics in our waste stream is an opportunity for our community to lead the nation. It's a watershed moment that every voter can be excited to be a part of – the beginning of a real change in our relationship with plastic, and a broader culture of consumerism. The students of Plastic Free MV have been working on this effort for months, and they are optimistic that it will have ripple effects far and wide.  

The bylaw addresses small, single-use containers (those less than 34 ounces in size). It does impact businesses – like restaurants, stores, caterers – that vend plastic water or soda bottles, and we are sympathetic to their concerns about the challenges of switching. It will go into effect next year, in order to give businesses time to choose suppliers for the new products. 

The immediate result will be that we change for the better the containers we use for water and other beverages. Reliance on single-use plastic bottles for soda and water will give way to more sustainable, more recyclable containers like aluminum, glass, and cardboard. That will be a good thing. 

But it also sends a strong message about embracing a sustainable future for kids and their families. VCS has been working to bring about this more sustainable, less disposable approach to living through the installation of water bottle refill stations across the Island. Free, chilled and filtered water is now available at more and more public places, with the continually-updated “Tap Map” of locations available as an online guide. 

Students see that they are part of a larger effort on the Island and nationally. Reusable water bottles are now as ubiquitous as backpacks in our schools  the next generation will expect quality drinking water to be freely available. Beyond the kids at West Tisbury School, other student groups across the Island are pursuing their own grassroots efforts to reduce waste, which we also heartily applaud. 

These students’ goal in offering this bylaw is to inspire, not harm. Businesses are free to offer larger bottled beverages in plastic, and small, single-serving beverages in glass, metal or any other material than plastic. And, of course, in the event of a hurricane or other public emergency, water of any size would be allowed. 

So come to your town meeting and add your voice of support for a more sustainable future!

--Brendan O'Neill, VCS Executive Director

The Plastic Free MV kids get a lesson in parliamentary procedure from Dan Waters, 
West Tisbury Town Meeting Moderator