To the Editor:
There are two proposed versions of a plastic bag bylaw on the warrant for the upcoming Oak Bluffs town meeting. They are Article 44 and Article 45. I am one of the folks who worked with residents of Oak Bluffs to research, write, and present one of these versions — Article 44. This is the same bylaw that all of the five other Island towns passed with overwhelming support last year.
Our bag bylaw group has, at this point, spent an almost ridiculous amount of time researching what happens in communities when they adopt a bag bylaw. The last thing any of us want is to advocate for something that does our community unintended harm. We are a diverse group, ranging in age and representing every Island town. We have owned seasonal businesses on-Island, and owned and worked in retail and restaurants. We have spent hours and weeks, and at this point years, talking to businesses to learn concerns here, and successes and mistakes elsewhere, in communities that adopted bag bans years ago.
The long and short of it is that bag bylaws do not hurt businesses. They do not hurt communities. They do just the opposite.
Oak Bluffs needs to make its own choice, but I hope that it will do so with a clear understanding of what separates one bylaw from the other. There is a very clear goal to a bag bylaw. It is quite simply to reduce the number of plastic bags out there, to minimize the environmental and waste disposal issues. Article 44 does just that. Article 45, the other proposal, which has been initiated by a few Oak Bluffs businesses, will not.
Without getting into details that make eyes glaze over, Article 44 sets a high limit for ending plastic bag use, and essentially makes the commitment to switch to recycled paper and reusable bags — the very goals of a plastic bag ban.
Article 45 sets a much lower limit, and in essence does nothing to stop plastic bag use; it just slightly upshifts the bag thickness or the ingredients allowed in the plastic bags. This is designed to give the businesses more “flexibility.” Please understand what this means — in practice, it is more than likely that Oak Bluffs would continue to use the multiple million plastic bags it does now, but each of these bags would be a little thicker, requiring more resources to make, and allowing more plastic into the environment. This scenario is almost guaranteed, as the businesses that have drafted this bylaw have made it clear that their very goal is to have a bylaw that allows them to keep using plastic bags. Article 45 is a “plastic bag bylaw” that allows Oak Bluffs to avoid a plastic bag bylaw.
Where plastic bags and the ocean intersect, the facts are damning. The World Economic Forum predicts that plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean in the next few decades. Think about how light plastics are, and then think about the massive volume needed to make this statement true. Is that the ocean we want to swim through and fish from in the future? Currently 90 percent of all seabirds have ingested plastic. Whales, sea turtles, seals, dolphins, and many other animals are much too regularly being found with plastic bags filling their stomachs and blocking their breathing passages. A whale recently found dead on the Cape had 30 plastic bags in its stomach. Year after year, one of the most common items found during worldwide beach cleanups is plastic bags. We are an Island community with a strong fishing and beach resort, past and present. How can we not be concerned? What do we want for our children?
I, and those that I have been working with, use this opportunity to make a plea to Oak Bluffs voters. We need a plastic bag bylaw that will get these bags out of circulation, off our streets, away from our beaches, and out of our ocean. There are so many things in today’s world that we feel powerless to change. But this is one difference that we can make, and we can make it now, without further delay and confusion. Based on numbers given to us by retailers, it is estimated that the other Island towns have already kept over a million bags out of circulation since their bylaw went into effect on Jan. 1. Oak Bluffs should participate in this success.
Please vote for a bylaw that will make a difference. Vote YES for Article 44 and NO to Article 45. We cannot afford to ignore this trend. We CAN afford to make this change — in fact, the rest of the Island already has.
Vineyard Conservation Society