Power to the little people


They’re still years away from voting themselves, but the kids from Plastic Free MV are making a difference, and demonstrated over the past week that they wield powerful clout.

After the Tisbury board of selectmen removed their proposed bylaw from a special town meeting, the kids were frustrated and disappointed. But they were not defeated.

They wrote letters to the editor. They made protest signs. They marched in Tisbury. They did research to find out what they could do to overturn the decision.

Runar Finn Robinson was correct in his assessment of the Tisbury board’s vote. It was sneaky.

On the board’s agenda, it was listed as “closing and signing of the 2020 special town meeting warrant.” There was no hint that the board, which had already approved putting the PFMV bylaw on the warrant, would be discussing the issue in any detail, let alone voting unanimously to pull it from the warrant.

The comments by the students, most of them either from West Tisbury School or the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, were thoughtful, even though their young blood must have been boiling.

We can’t say the same for the Tisbury board of selectmen. In pushing a different article that would come up with an action plan on plastics, selectman Melinda Loberg said it was “not as draconian.” It was a head-scratching comment, because there is nothing all that punitive about the Plastic Free MV bylaw. It simply seeks to make a change we should all be trying to make on our own.

But give the board of selectmen credit. Realizing their dubious decision was getting a lot of negative attention, and that the kids weren’t giving up without a fight (they had already gathered the necessary signatures to petition a special town meeting by Friday morning), selectmen Loberg and Jeff Kristal voted Friday to put the bylaw article back on the town meeting warrant to let voters decide its fate. Selectman Jim Rogers was absent.

And Loberg, given some time, was much more thoughtful in her comments: “I think we all agree on the problem of plastics in our environment and the damage they do. I appreciate the fact that we are being led to solutions by the upcoming generation of leaders.” 

Now, can we talk realistically about this bylaw?

The idea that it’s going to hurt local business is overblown. There are replacement products out there — water in boxes and soda in glass — that businesses can stock to replace the single-use plastic containers that this bylaw would ban. 

Does it police people bringing them over on a ferry? No. Is that a reason not to do anything? Absolutely not.

There are still places where Stop & Shop can give customers plastic bags to carry their groceries, as close to the Island as Wareham. Does that mean the Vineyard should not have banned plastic bags at the grocery stores on Island? No. Does it stop summer visitors from bringing them on the Island? Absolutely not.

The bottle ban should be looked at the same way.

The Plastic Free MV bylaw isn’t going to save the Island. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done, and, fortunately, there is a lot of brainpower working toward solutions to climate change and sea-level rise and the effects they’re having on the Vineyard.

But the Plastic Free MV bylaw is a small step toward a solution, one that we can and should be able to handle.

The kids from Plastic Free MV demonstrated tremendous leadership. Their efforts should be applauded. And voters should give them the ultimate victory on town meeting floor by joining West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah in banning single-use plastic bottles smaller than 34 ounces.