Plastic Free MV tours the grocery store

Ahead of town meeting, students explore implications of plastic bottle ban.


Students are looking to change the way folks on-Island wet their whistle, but with so many beverages being packaged in plastic, the young environmentalists sought to understand just how much a plastic bottle ban would affect Vineyard grocery stores.

Members of Plastic Free MV took to the aisles of down-Island Cronig’s with grocery store owner Steve Bernier to get a good idea of how their proposed Plastic Water and Soft Drink Bottle Bylaw, which has proven to be one of the more prominent town meeting warrant articles, would change things.

The bottled water and soft drink aisle was where the students spent most of their tour — looking at what would be kept, and what would be banned from sale.

Any plastic bottle containing water or soda that is 34 ounces and under would be eliminated under the bylaw, and students said they were surprised by the amount of small containers in the aisle.

Student Emma Bena pointed over to the miniature “water pods” of Poland Spring water that held eight ounces of water each in a package of 12.

She explained how four of these mini water bottles could fit into one large-size reusable bottle: “It’s a waste, there is so much plastic just in this one package; the plastic bottles are wrapped in another layer of plastic.”

Emma said she never realized the amount of plastic that goes into a case of water, and noted that the entire aisle the students were standing in would be replaced with more sustainable and environmentally conscious containers.

“This aisle would be replaced with reusable glass bottles, and they even sell BPA-free water bottles here already,” Emma said, pointing to a rack of colorful and large-capacity reusable bottles.

Emma explained how most places that sell disposable water and soda also sell reusable, BPA-free bottles. “It’s a better alternative, it’s available, and it saves money,” Emma said.

Student Josie Powers picked up a Core plastic water bottle that had two caps on it (one underneath the other). “This is so unnecessary; this bottle has two caps for marine animals to choke on, and one cap isn’t even a twist on, it’s a single-use cap,” Josie said.

Josie explained how plastic caps are not recyclable, and when they enter into the environment, animals eat the caps and either choke or starve to death.

Another student, Quinlan Slavin, described how the plastic bottle ban seeks to change the daily habits of shoppers.

“We want people to reuse; you actually save money by refilling a metal or glass water bottle, instead of buying a case of water that will hurt the environment,” Quinlan said.

He suggested that if someone really wants to buy disposable plastic bottles, they should be larger than 34 ounces, in order to use as little plastic as possible.

“A gallon of water uses much less plastic than a package of smaller waters,” Quinlan said. “Buy in bulk if you are going to buy plastic bottles.”

Several other Massachusetts communities have banned the sale of plastic water bottles, including Nantucket and Concord.

West Tisbury schoolteacher and Plastic Free MV leader Annemarie Ralph said the students are an inspiration, and have worked hard to get the word out about the bylaw, in order to draw a large turnout to town meeting. “We’ve been tabling, we’ve sent Letters to the Editor, we’ve made phone calls; we’re basically begging people to show up to town meeting and show their support,” Ralph said.

Student Tasman Strom said all he hopes is that people come to town meeting and vote for what they think is right. “I hope this bylaw passes because it would benefit the community and keep us from polluting our environment with plastic,” Tasman said. “This is a big deal, we need to do this to help save the planet.”

After giving the kids a tour of the store, Bernier said he admires them for their energy, enthusiasm, and persistence. “These kids are so inspirational, they are doing something that is difficult, but necessary; something that most people wouldn’t have the courage or dedication to attempt,” Bernier said. “We are coming to a tipping point in this world, and we need some real change in order to bounce back.”

The only way change can happen, according to Bernier, is through acceptance. “People need to understand that of course you are going to like what is cheap and convenient. But is cheap and convenient worth destroying the planet?” Bernier said.

According to Bernier, people need to be more respectful with their actions and use their moral compass a little more. “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. You see the next generation taking on these big problems, and it really sparks your enthusiasm,” he said.

The kids’ message has rubbed of on Bernier, and he said he hopes it will rub off on others in the community as well.

View the entire bylaw on the Chilmark annual town meeting warrant here.