One of the core values that we embrace in Brattleboro and, indeed, as Vermonters, is a high regard for the environment and a healthy ecosystem.
And that is why it is remarkable that this town still allows stores to distribute single-use plastic bags, the kind that have been polluting our seas, killing fish and animals, and even entering the food chain.
However, on Tuesday, March 7, voters can express their desire to join a growing movement of towns and cities across the country that are banning these disposable bags in favor of reusable ones.
Thanks to the efforts of many individuals and groups in town, we easily collected the required 439 signatures to place an advisory initiative on the warning for the Town Meeting ballot.
“Shall the Town of Brattleboro vote to advise and encourage the Selectboard to enact an ordinance that no retail establishment shall provide a Single-Use Carry Out Plastic Bag to a customer at the check stand, cash register, point of sale or other point of departure for the purpose of transporting food or merchandise out of the establishment.”
Importantly, this question does not interfere with the sale of garbage bags used in the pay-as-you-throw system of garbage collection, nor does it limit the use of plastic bags for separating fruits and vegetables from other items.
Furthermore, retailers may sell a recycled paper bag and reusable carry-out bags for a reasonable charge.
Our ultimate goal, then, is to convince Brattleboro voters that single-use plastic bags are a scourge on the environment, toxic to humans and animal- and birdlife, and surely incompatible with Vermont’s self-image and reputation as a “green” state.
Cities and counties have banned plastic bags from San Francisco to Cape Cod for good reasons. As the Plastic Pollution Coalition notes, “Plastic is a substance the earth cannot digest and every bit of plastic ever created still exists. Every day in the United States we throw out almost 88 tons of plastic.”
Currently, more than one trillion bags are produced annually. The plastics industry argues that paper bags are more of a drain on the environment than plastic, a claim that is unsubstantiated. However, we do know that paper bags biodegrade within 30 days and, unlike plastic bags, are not poisoning more than a million sea and birdlife annually.
Our ultimate goal is not for shoppers to convert to paper but to transition to reusable bags, such as the kind already available in supermarkets or to cloth bags
In the places that have transitioned to reusable bags, there is no evidence whatsoever that the transition had a negative impact on businesses. In fact, there is clear evidence that stores would save on the cost of plastic bags.
Looking at the broader picture, transition to reusable bags significantly reduces a nation’s dependence on oil. The New York Times reported in 2007 that the 100 billion bags used in this country require 12 million barrels of oil (not including transportation costs for the 25 percent of bags produced in Asia).
We live in New England, where people adapt to and embrace progressive change. Surely, we can adapt as well as — say — pet owners in Los Angeles, grocery stores in Cape Cod, or food merchants in Washington, D.C.
Single-use plastic bags have been a bad idea from the beginning. Let’s make a strong statement that we are both ecologically responsible and fiscally sensible by voting for this petition. It is just who we are.