Plastic Free MV held a public discussion at the West Tisbury library Thursday to educate Islanders about the dangers of plastic in the environment, and to push for the ban of single-use plastic bottles on Martha’s Vineyard.
The group of fifth graders from the West Tisbury school have been travelling from town to town, meeting with selectmen and health officials, to request putting the “Plastic Water and Soft Drink Bottle Bylaw” on town warrants across the Island.
The young environmentalists already have their bylaw on town warrants in West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah, and are looking to take the down-Island towns by storm.
And this isn’t the first green initiative the students have been instrumental in organizing and promoting — they started learning about sustainability five years ago, when Straw Free MV was created to get rid of disposable straws on-Island.
The goal of Plastic Free MV is to eliminate the use of disposable plastic water and soda bottles 34 ounces (roughly one liter) and under; gallons and large containers would still be allowed.
To make up for the lack of plastic bottles sold and distributed in Island towns, the students are advocating for convenient water refill stations in businesses and public areas.
Student Jasper Ralph said there are already about 10 refill stations on Island, but there need to be more.
He suggested having filling stations to serve customers at the Chilmark Store; in Menemsha, convenient to Menemsha Beach; and at the Aquinnah Cliffs.
He also said installing stations at Alley’s, Cronigs, and outside the West Tisbury School would greatly reduce the amount of plastic bottles in the municipal waste stream.
Another student, Emma Bena, explained to the audience how, as plastics break down, they create microplastics which are not biodegradable, and can travel up the food chain through the food we eat and the water we drink.
“Chemicals leached by plastics are in the blood and tissues of all of us; some children are even born pre-polluted,” Emma said. “Chemicals and microplastics can cause heart disease, cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, and more.”
Jasper said the manufacturing of plastics uses a large amount of fossil fuels, and plastic that is discarded often ends up leaching harmful chemicals into drinking water and soil.
“Plastic is not our best or most resourceful option because it creates greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change,” Jasper said.
Some people may feel better about buying plastic that is labeled as compostable or biodegradable, but Jasper said these materials are not meant to be reused or recycled, and instead must be processed at high-heat facilities like the SEMASS facility in Rochester.
“If one piece of this plastic goes into the recycling, it can ruin the whole load of recycling because it is meant to break down,” Jasper said. “So you can see why compostable and biodegradable plastics are not the greatest option.”
Student Odin Robinson described Plastic Free’s plan to work with local businesses to design a logo that will be stamped on reusable water bottles. The bottles will also have a list of the different refill stations on-Island.
At the end of the presentation, students responded to questions from audience members.
Chilmark resident Deb Dunn first thanked the group for its dedication to helping the environment, and commended the students for an informative presentation. “You’ve obviously done your homework,” she said.
Dunn said she teaches at the M.V. Charter School where there is a water refill station, and wondered how much it costs to install one.
Emma said it costs $2,000 to install two small refill stations, and $7,000 for a large station.
Dunn also wanted to know how the students are planning to fund the stations once they are installed.
Emma said businesses can choose to fund the installations themselves, and to offset revenue loss, they can charge money for each refill.
Audience member Thomas Bena told the students they are an inspiration to him and are models for conscious and sustainable living. “I am a little embarrassed that my generation hasn’t done this before,” he said. “Thank you so much for what you are doing.”
Enforcement of the bylaw will be the responsibility of boards of health, and any first violation will result in a written warning. A $50 fine will be imposed for second violations, with subsequent violations resulting in a $100 fine. Each day the violation continues constitutes a separate violation.
The board of health can also determine at any time that implementation and enforcement of the bylaw is unreasonable.The board must notify selectmen, who will conduct a public hearing to inform citizens of the costs. The board may then continue the bylaw, or suspend it.
If the bylaw passes, it will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Another public forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 3:30 pm at the Chilmark library.