Plastic Free gets bylaw on O.B. town warrant

A group of town business owners secure committee article to focus on plastic mitigation.

West Tisbury Students Jasper Ralph and Emma Bena and Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School student Finn Robinson of Plastic Free MV got their bylaw on the upcoming Oak Bluffs town warrant. — Brian Dowd

The students from Plastic Free MV will get a chance to pitch their plastic bottle ban to Oak Bluffs voters at annual town meeting on April 14, but voters will also face a separate proposal from town business owners that seeks to put off the ban.

The two proposed bylaws revolve around reducing plastic on the Island, but take separate routes to get there.

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, and the use of alternative brands in glass or boxed containers.

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.

Last week members of the Oak Bluffs Association met to discuss the potential impact of the proposed bottle bylaw, and to talk about an alternative bylaw.

Luke DeBettencourt, owner of the Corner Store on Circuit Avenue, presented a plastics reduction and mitigation bylaw that would not ban any plastics like Plastic Free’s bylaw, but would establish a seven-member committee to create an action plan by March 2021. The action plan “incrementally manages plastic reduction and mitigation in the town over a multi-year time frame,” according to the proposal.

DeBettencourt said the committee bylaw would encompass Plastic Free MV’s ban, plus go further and ban polystyrene. It would also look at recycling and composting.

“I would like to extend an invitation to you, Plastic Free MV, to join us, the business community, and endorse our article, which we feel is all-encompassing,” DeBettencourt said. “I challenge you, you’ve been very passionate. If you’re truly protectors and stewards of our environment and place a value on the environment, then make it a priority. That should come above newspaper headlines … you should accept this invitation.”

DeBettencourt added that the town should look at a “collaborative,” not “piecemeal,” approach to achieve environmental sustainability.

Selectman Brian Packish read a letter from Meegan Lancaster, the town’s health agent, who would be put in charge of enforcing any bottle ban. She wrote that the state designates the local boards of health to protect public health, but does not provide state funding to do so. “Our concern lies with the presumption that enforcement of this bylaw will fall to the Oak Bluffs board of health,” the letter, referring to the Plastic Free MV proposed bylaw, reads. “In light of our existing regulatory responsibilities, the assumption of an additional enforcement allocation is simply not feasible for this department at this time.”

Oak Bluffs resident Ronald Ferreira said technology would take care of many of the waste issues in the next few years. “Now we want to ban all these bottles, like bottles throw themselves out onto our streets, and throw themselves out into the woods, and throw themselves out into the ocean; instead people are doing this, young and old,” Ferreira said. “Let’s go after the polluters, not the product.”

Tracey Stead, mother of Elliot Stead, one of the members of Plastic Free MV, said it was less about the polluters and more about the materials being sold. “They’re not banning plastic, they’re banning single-use, and I think there are plenty alternatives out there,” Stead said. “We have to start somewhere.”

DeBettencourt said banning one type of plastic would shift the environmental burden to another type of container. He also said the proposed committee bylaw would have an educational component. DeBettencourt also criticized Plastic Free’s proposal, saying people could still order single-use plastic bottles from Amazon. “It’s discriminatory against small, brick-and-mortar businesses,” DeBettencourt said.

Students from Plastic Free eagerly shot their hands up during the meeting to share the knowledge and purpose behind their bylaw. They made it clear their proposal would not happen overnight, giving business owners plenty of time to prepare, and stressed the negative impact plastic has on the environment.

“When a plastic bottle is [exposed] to UV sunlight, it releases methane, which is 12 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so that has an even greater effect on the environment,” West Tisbury student Emma Bena said.

A fellow Plastic Free member agreed. “I wish we had lots of time just to think about this and debate it more, but we’re running out of time. We need to take actual action now. We can’t just form a committee and talk about this for another year. We have to do something today,” Finn Robinson, a Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School student, said.

The students also showed different alternatives to single-use plastic bottles that businesses could use, such as Mountain Valley Spring Water, which is in glass bottles; Boxed Water, which is in a paper carton; and Voss water, which also comes in glass bottles.

Selectman Michael Santoro said he wanted to see Plastic Free and the business owners get together to come up with one warrant article, but Annemarie Ralph, a teacher at the West Tisbury School who was with the Plastic Free students, said the kids would probably turn down the committee proposal, especially because it was the first time they had a chance to review it.

“It doesn’t do anything, it’s a lot more talk,” Ralph said.

Selectmen then approved putting both bylaws on the warrant, giving business owners and Plastic Free the option of coming together to later amend their bylaws at town meeting or to keep them separate.

Speaking to the Plastic Free students, selectman Greg Coogan said getting their bylaw on the warrant was a start. “You’re insisting all or nothing, which I think you have to realize is that doesn’t work well all the time,” Coogan said. “Watching programs about plastics, it’s all true.”

In other business, selectmen addressed the situation at the fire department following the departure of embattled Fire Chief John Rose.

“So far everyone has just stepped up tremendously. We have some people that are just putting in the extra mile and the extra effort to make sure everybody stays safe, and we have total and complete confidence both in the fire and the EMS operations in our town,” Packish said.

Selectmen have been in talks with fire department command staff and consultant George Baker, a former Mashpee fire chief. Baker has helped the town “formulate a direction.” Packish also thanked fire chiefs Alex Schaeffer of Edgartown and John Schilling of Tisbury for their support.



  1. “It’s discriminatory against small, brick-and-mortar businesses,” DeBettencourt said. Lol. So polluting is ok as long as the Corner Store and other small businesses can make a buck. What a farce. I don’t blame the kids for backing away from Luke’s “committee”. The future is not in his committee’s hands but in what the kids are doing. And Coogan? Basically he’s saying “just make nice.” Great leadership there.

  2. News News, I’m not sure you understand what “discriminatory” means in terms of a law or bylaw. In its most simplest terms it means that the law favors one class or group over another. The plastic bottle ban bylaw does exactly that. In its enforcement by local Boards of Health it is directed at our local small businesses and does not impact big box stores or online retailers like Walmart, Target, BJ’s or Amazon. They will still have the ability to ship the same products that are banned locally to the same customers. In short this amounts to unequal treatment under the law or discrimination. The only people laughing out loud are the large corporations.

    • Pro Small Business, my guess is that the ban won’t harm sales from tourists too much, if at all. In an effort to travel light and enjoy the experience, I feel most aren’t going to pack multiple single-use bottles from home. Especially if they’re coming over on foot. There may be some financial loss from locals who frequent the same businesses daily and expect to find certain items, but buying in bulk is already so easy. And cheap. Cheaper than shopping locally. Customers who have a favorite beverage — one they care about enough to order online or track down at Walmart — may have already switched to doing just that, long ago.

      The key will be in offering a good variety of eco-friendly brands. Luckily, options are popping up all the time. I hope most will choose to support environmental efforts and small Island stores by continuing to shop here. Competition from Amazon Prime is always going to present a big problem, sadly, ban or no ban. My UPS guy on the Cape referred to MV as Amazon Isle. Still, I don’t think the financial impact of moving away from plastic will be severe or permanent. Not once we adjust to seeing new choices. It could even be turned into a plus? A lot of people like the Island because they feel it’s an escape from the everyday stuff you find on the mainland. Play that up. Stores can stock unique products and organic alternatives to classics. Tourists love anything marked artesian. We kinda attract the Whole Foods crowd. ?

      Also, I’m a bit skeptical about the timeframe for the committee proposed by Mr. DeBettencourt. Why would it take over a year to make progress on this?

  3. pro small — I am constantly at how anti environmentalist can always find someone else to blame for virtually everything. Amazon’s prime is an environmental disaster. Perhaps when our young students grow up, they will do after them, and other large corporations. I choose to encourage their local activism, rather than whine about some other country or corporation doing exactly what you want to do, namely just treat our planet like a trash can and let the next generation deal with it. Well, small, the next generation is dealing with it. Get over it.
    As for large corporations, environmental activism is putting plenty of pressure on them to clean up their acts, with significant results.
    One notable success is that virtually all fast food corporations purged plastic and Styrofoam from their
    The only people laughing out loud here are reasonable people who are laughing at someone who thinks
    working towards a cleaner and more sustainable environment is “discrimination “.

  4. “Embattled Fire Chief” I just find it really disrespectful that the Times doesn’t have the decency to show a shred of respect to this individual for all he has done and continues to use language like this when it’s completely unnecessary, especially when the bulk of this article has nothing to do with this situation. Extremely disappointing.

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