Plastic Free pushes for O.B. warrant article

Selectmen want to see more discussion with local business owners.

Jasper Ralph and Elliot Stead of West Tisbury School and Finn Robinson of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School discuss the "bottle ban" with selectmen. — Brian Dowd

Three students from Plastic Free MV went before the Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday night in hopes of getting their plastic bottle ban article approved for the warrant at the upcoming annual town meeting, but selectmen want to see more discussion.

Jasper Ralph and Elliot Stead, students at the West Tisbury School, and Finn Robinson, a student at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, read from a prepared statement asking for their bottle bylaw to be put on the upcoming town warrant, and informing the board of the hazards created by plastic bottles. 

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. If passed in Oak Bluffs, the bylaw would take effect May 1, 2021.

To make up for the lack of plastic bottles sold and distributed on the Island, the students are advocating for convenient water refill stations in businesses and public areas.

“Plastic waste is overwhelming society’s ability to manage it,” Finn said.

The group of young activist students were successful in getting the article passed by voters in the up-Island towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. The law will go into effect for those towns in May.

Now the students have their sights set down-Island. The group has visited selectmen in Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs to pitch their bottle ban.

“I think it’s very possible to do away with plastics, like Cronig’s. Their down-Island store is doing that just by their own will,” Finn said.

Selectmen told the students they appreciated their efforts and supported their cause, but stressed getting the bylaw passed down-Island would be a different challenge.

“Down-Island towns, especially Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, have a different impact than the up-Island towns, and there’s a major financial impact,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.

“It’s hard to compare the up-Island and down-Island towns because the number of people that come through down-Island towns is exponential,” selectman Greg Coogan said.

The deadline to submit articles for the Oak Bluffs warrant is Feb. 17. 

Selectman Brian Packish suggested the group hold a forum at the board’s next meeting on Feb. 11, where business owners and other members of the public could learn more about the bylaw.

“My phone’s off the hook from Oak Bluffs businesses that are completely unhappy with this conversation,” Packish said. “That doesn’t mean that that’s how I feel, or anybody else on the board feels; it’s just important we’re mindful of that portion of our constituency as well.”

West Tisbury teacher Annemarie Ralph, who accompanied the students to Tuesday’s meeting, said there was a level of frustration on Plastic Free’s end because they’ve held forums, but people don’t show up.

Barmakian said the group needs to reach out directly to businesses to talk about how the bylaw could impact them.

“Personally, I think it’s great, I think we all do,” selectman Michael Santoro said. “We’re just worried about a financial hit that some of these businesses could take … it’s a little different in our town than in other towns.”

Coogan, along with other selectmen, praised the students for their efforts. “Keep on coming, keep on pushing. You’re doing a great job,” Coogan said.

In other business, selectmen unanimously voted to choose Atlantic Construction and Management Inc. as the owner’s project manager (OPM) for its town hall renovation project.

Packish cited Atlantic’s focus on a tight timeline, previous work on the roof at the Oak Bluffs School, and history with Icon Architecture, the designers behind the planned renovations.

Now that the town has selected an OPM, it will engage a contractor, according to Packish.

“Ultimately our hope is to get to town meeting with a price developed through that contractor with a maximum bid price for the project,” Packish said. “Hopefully town meeting will have the comfort level of ‘Here’s the project, here’s how much it costs,’ because it’s been pre-bid.”

Selectmen also said the trailers will most likely be used for town hall employees once renovations on the town hall begin.

“To remove the trailers and then bring them back is going to cost 10 times what it costs to just keep them there,” selectman Jason Balboni said.

The trailers were meant to house town employees while a new town hall was built, but the trailers have gone largely unused, and were broken into in May. The trailers were installed in April 2018, and leased for $8,200 a month for 18 months. The town continues to rent the trailers on a month-to-month basis.

Santoro joked the trailers were used as “affordable housing,” referring to the May breaking and entering incident.

In 2017, town voters approved $9.8 million for a new town hall, but the following year, two separate bids for the project came in over budget, the last being as high as $11.1 million, according to Packish. A vote to approve an additional $1.3 million was shot down by voters at a special election in November. 

Over the summer, the trailers were used by Oak Bluffs School administration while repairs were being done on the school.

Selectmen also approved a nonbinding warrant article that encourages the town, along with the rest of the Island, to reduce its use of fossil fuels to as close to zero as possible, and replace it with renewable energy sources. The article was submitted by the town’s energy committee, headed by Richard Toole.


  1. So affordable housing is a joke now? It seems addressing affordable housing won’t be part of Santoro’s legacy. Silly me — why should a wealthy selectman have to worry about that problem?

  2. Yes, Plastic is something that needs to be addressed and good for them and their ideas BUT who is going to pay for these water stations? Who would service them?

    Why is the town still paying rent on trailers that put in April 2018 and they haven’t been used? Why didn’t they wait until they knew would need them? WASTE WASTE WASTE

  3. What does that tell you if they’ve held forums, but people don’t show up?
    Maybe their teachers should teach them about recycling. Maybe the teachers will try next to have the little kids get rid of all things plastic in their homes. See who shows up for those types of forums!
    Gee in India they are recycling plastic and using it to fill pot holes and it is even better than asphalt! Maybe their teachers should look into that!

    • tis native– are you suggesting that the vineyard build a plastics recycling plant here to patch potholes ?

  4. Further discussion is a good idea, in case there are aspects that haven’t been thoroughly considered yet. I’m anti-plastic when possible and have been trying to think more about my purchases. Plastic can be harmful in so many ways.

    That said, sometimes we have to weigh all concerns and compromise. I was not in favor of completely doing away with disposable plastic straws, for example, and am disappointed that a segment of the community was ignored. It’s great that students learned they can create environmental change, but there was another lesson at hand — need vs. want. Some need bendable, safe straws. Straw bans negatively impact people with disabilities, especially those who cannot use alternatives made from paper or harder materials, due to risk of injury. I know someone who now has a difficult time getting what he needs locally. Keep hoping paper straws can be improved with an eco-friendly coating. Currently, they dissolve and create a choking hazard for patients who are already at higher risk of aspiration.

    I realize straws and bottles are separate issues, but after seeing the way straws were handled… guess I’m a bit leery.

      • It’s not an all-or-nothing situation, yet it was treated like one here. That was my point. Activists should listen to concerns. Of course there are billions of single-use plastic straws that go to waste each year and can be eliminated. Plastic is often wasteful and harmful on multiple levels, as I already said. Switching to alternatives when possible is great. Straws contribute to beach litter when not disposed of properly, which harms marine life. I’m sure we all know that and would like to help.

        But it’s not a reason to 100% eliminate them when some customers require the option. Even Seattle, a city that banned these straws outright, recommends businesses continue to make plastic available on site for people with disabilities. It’s about equal access and quality of life.

        No one needs the paper straws that are now offered at many Island locations. Restaurants could stop providing them altogether. That would save trees and the environment even further, if that’s our only goal. We could all be expected to carry paper versions purchased on Amazon. But we aren’t asked to do that. Business owners know straws are a little luxury the public isn’t willing to part with yet. Funny how we can still afford the environmental cost of providing a luxury alternative for many but not a necessity for a few.

        What disability groups have been saying is that the same courtesies can and should be extended to all, simply by leaving the option available. It’s a compromise that still amounts to far less plastic waste than we started with, yet the benefits are significant for those trying to do so-called normal, everyday activities.
        Student activists should be taught that while environmentalism is vital, so is empathy and acknowledgment of varying needs, especially when you’re pushing for changes that affect the community as a whole. Many disabled people have to prepare just to leave the house, but plans change. Heaven forbid they want to get an impromptu drink or receive an invite to dinner after running out of supplies. Maybe they should just go home and let the other 99% enjoy the Island’s supposed hospitality? Or we can make reasonable provisions and support environmental changes at the same time.

        It’s not our place to determine the severity of anyone’s disability. The reasons for needing a straw vary. People who are told they appear healthy sometimes need them. Dysphagia can come and go for those with neuromuscular conditions. Same with muscle weakness or tremors that cause people to suddenly be unable to lift a cup. Basically, someone who does not need a straw at one meal may require one for the next. It’s great to come prepared. It’s better to be allowed to dine out without this worry.

  5. Hay dondondon12 ~~ maybe, makes more sense to me than banning everything plastic.
    Actually I am sick of what the teachers been teaching the kids on MV for years!
    Looking back I can see the difference started in the 60`s and once I was a senior at MVRHS.
    Today it is sickening what I have to pay taxes for concerning the education of our kids and the special teachers for kids who dont speak our language! That to me is crazy.
    Anyway I just miss the island when myself and all my long generational native relatives all grew up here ..
    I just say “WHATEVER” and stay under the wire.

    • Tis– no one is trying to ban “everything plastic” or ban meat or air travel.
      But we are starting to be aware that the products we take for granted have an adverse effect on the environment for years to come.
      Let me cite an example. Lead paint was widely used until 1978, when it was discovered that it was damaging the brains of children. There were of course people who thought it ridiculous to ban it, but for the great majority of the public, it was clear. Does your automobile still run without lead in the gas ? Does water still come out of your faucets that your children or grandchildren can drink without the worry of lead poisoning ?
      Today, we are spending your tax dollars and mine trying to mitigate the damage to our school children from the actions of others at least 40 years ago.

      I wonder if the Tisbury school paid more for cleaning up the messes of past generations than they spent on bilingual education last year.
      I cannot blame the painters who put that paint on the school all the years ago, as they didn’t know the hazards. Today, we know the long term consequences of our actions, and some refuse to even give up single use plastic bags, bottles and straws to spare the lives of marine animals and fish for decades to come.
      We used to spray used motor oil on dirt roads to keep the dust down, it was common practice to change your motor oil by digging a small hole in the ground and draining the oil into it. We don’t have open burning of the dumps any more , our rivers no longer catch fire from excessive industrial pollution, and we don’t have cholera outbreaks here for a reason. You can even eat the fish in the Charles river.
      It’s not because everyone altruistically decided to give up a few of their “modern conveniences” . It’s because some of the people we elected to manage our society had some backbone and stood up to powerful industries and regulated them, as well as the actions of individuals.
      We know better than our ancestors did. For us to know better and to do nothing is irresponsible at best.
      PS–Nem todo mundo fala inglês – supere isso

    • Red sox– by all means, Styrofoam everything should be on the chopping block.
      It is not necessary, and there are alternatives in virtually ever case.

      • I have a closet full of them. Cardboard you can dump. All from stop and shop. Lets get these kids on this.

  6. McDonalds stopped using Styrofoam containers in 1990. It’s still the # 1 company in the fast food industry.
    The Vineyard can live without one use plastic bottles.

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