Bottle Ban

This vending machine at town hall is among the targets of a municipal plastic bottle ban proposed by petition for Town Meeting.

Environmental advocates filed an article by petition last Friday, January 10 that will ask voters at May Town Meeting to enact a municipal plastic bottle ban.

The ban—which has been adopted in 11 other Cape Cod towns including Falmouth and Sandwich—would prohibit the sale of beverages in single-use plastic bottles on town property and restrict the town from purchasing beverages in single-use plastics except for emergencies.

“I see the town officials as having opportunities in every aspect of life of setting the proper example,” said Virginia Scharfenberg, president of the citizens group Mashpee Environmental Coalition. “I see this as a real educational moment for them.”

“Plastic bottles are made of nonrenewable fuels, they leach chemicals into the consumable, and the bottles are never biodegradable,” Ms. Scharfenberg said.

The petition garnered 13 certified signatures from Mashpee residents and both the MEC and town’s Environmental Oversight Committee have expressed support for the proposed bylaw.

Committee chairwoman Kaitlyn Cadoret described the municipal plastic bottle ban “as just another way of promoting awareness of what we do use and how to change our behaviors and learn more about our own municipal water supply.”

“Take that at-a-glance convenience away and maybe have people realize that there are better ways to go forward,” Ms. Cadoret said.

The use of plastics in the United States has continued to grow for decades.

In 2017, plastics accounted for 35,370 tons of municipal solid waste generated in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of that, 26,820 tons of plastic ended up in landfills, while only 2,960 tons were recycled.

Ms. Scharfenberg noted that under the proposed bylaw businesses participating in events held on town property would have to comply with the ban on single-use plastic bottles.

“People then can observe how easy that can be,” she said.

The model for the proposed bylaw has been pushed in communities across Cape Cod by Sustainable Practices Ltd., a non-profit focused on environmental action in Barnstable County.

Mashpee is one of only four Cape towns that have yet to adopt a municipal bottle ban.

“People have become reliant on selling products that are actually negative to the environment or human health,” said the executive director of Sustainable Practices, Madhavi Venkatesan.

Ms. Venkatesan, who teaches economics at Northeastern University, described single-use plastics as “just the most tangible element of convenience consumption.”

With an economy that values itself on how much is produced, Ms. Venkatesan said, not enough attention is paid to the long-term costs of consumption and waste.

“Convenience consumption allows us to over consume a large amount of material for just a single, short-term use,” she said.

Ms. Venkatesan used the example of a plastic bottle of water. What is consumed is not only the water—which someone can drink in a matter of minutes—but also the plastic bottle which will never biodegrade, she said.

“That damage should be built into the price,” she said. “We have been duped by a system that has seen the weakness of the human mind.”

“It’s the American consumers that have to boycott the demand,” Ms. Venkatesan said.

The executive director of Sustainable Practices said her organization, which aims to connect with environmental advocates in each of the Cape Cod towns, aims to create a regional movement across the Cape.

“Geographically it’s perfect,” she said. “It’s a tourist-based economy which makes protection of the environment very important and it’s directly impacted by the trash that washes up from the ocean.”

In towns where a municipal plastic bottle ban passed in 2019, Sustainable Practices is now advocating a commercial ban on water sold in single-use plastic bottles.

For now, though, environmental advocates in Mashpee are working alongside Sustainable Practices to pass the municipal bottle ban.

“We’ve got to change a lot of things. This is the first step of a multistep focus which hopefully makes people pay more attention to what they consume,” Ms. Venkatesan said.

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