Powerful change for the better

By Nina Hitchen, Samantha Look, and the MV Bag Bylaw Working Group

As town meeting season approaches its close, we would like to take this opportunity to thank Oak Bluffs for becoming the sixth town to overwhelmingly support a plastic bag bylaw, and thank the Island community in total for addressing this issue. We are incredibly proud that our Island, as a whole, has taken this very powerful step toward reducing the amount of plastic in our environment. We have approached this change town by town, but the end result is now one consistent, strong bylaw, Island-wide, that will reduce litter in the landscape, pollution in our waters, and stress on our recycling systems.
We would like to thank the voters who came out for not one, but two nights of town meeting in Oak Bluffs. We would like to thank all of the many individuals we delayed with our flyers at the Oak Bluffs Post Office in the days and weeks leading up to the vote. With very few exceptions, you heard us out, asked questions, and — agree or disagree — gave us a moment of your time. We would like to thank all of the people who met repeatedly this past winter in an effort to draft a bylaw that satisfied environmental issues while addressing business concerns. Thanks also to the folks at town hall who assisted along the way. A special thank-you is due to the businesses that heard the environmental concern and made adjustments away from plastic many months ago, even before an Oak Bluffs vote.
Despite the extra year it took, the applause as the Bring Your Bag Bylaw passed in Oak Bluffs was thunderous. It should be noted that this applause was both for the bylaw and for the effort — right up to the last moment — to marry two sides of a difficult issue.  
While not exactly accurate, in broad strokes the bag bylaw issue in Oak Bluffs was painted as the environment versus local business. It was wonderful to see that in the end, people did not see it as an either-or situation: Supporting the bylaw and the environment did not mean turning our backs on wonderful and unique local small businesses.
The Oak Bluffs businesses initially opposed to the bylaw should also be commended for not turning their backs on the process — a thank-you to them for their time and commitment. They could have just brushed off the bylaw idea altogether, and simply opposed it, period. But they did not. They looked at options. They presented different approaches. They became well-versed in different bylaws and strategies. It does not feel easy to take sides in a small community, and yet our two sides continued — even when it was not easy — to meet, to talk, and in the end to find a solution. We hope it feels to all involved, in hindsight, like a great outcome.
We worked through differences. We voted. Our businesses have or are in the process of making adjustments. The entire Island will soon live with the same bylaw. Now comes the part we can all participate in. Not just in Oak Bluffs, but Island-wide — please show support for our businesses that have worked and spent money and adapted to make this change. Shop local. Bring Your Own Bag. Reusable bags work great at all retail stores, not just the grocery store. Invest in a reusable bag that can fold up in your purse, or the glove box of your truck, or anywhere else that is handy. If you think of it, thank the businesses that are really embracing this change and celebrating it. And finally, take pride in being part of a community that has taken on an issue and is making a difference. So often, especially right now, problems feel too huge to know where to start. This is one issue close to our heart — disposable plastic is negatively affecting the ocean at a rate and to a degree that we do not yet even fully understand — and we do not need to delay. We do not need a particular government leader or new technology, or really much of anything. We can all participate with the simple action of carrying our own bags. Our many individual small efforts equal a powerful change for the better. Many, many thanks.