Mashpee Town Meeting last week rejected articles that would have banned Styrofoam and plastic straws. It’s unfortunate; while approving the measures wouldn’t have changed the world overnight, it would have been a step in the right direction. And there are a lot of steps that need to be taken if we are to safeguard the global environment.
One cannot ignore the objections of business people. Mark Lawrence, owner of the Polar Cave, who tries to do the right thing by composting and recycling, was concerned that the proposed ban would add significantly to the cost of supplies. We don’t know anything about Mr. Lawrence’s business finances, but in general it is very difficult for a small business to balance ever-increasing expenses and income. One can charge more for products and services, but it comes at the risk of driving off customers. He deserves a sympathetic ear.
But while we can and should be sympathetic, there is no escaping the fact that we all will be asked to bear a share of the burden of cleaning up the environment. And there is a lot of cleaning to do.
One Town Meeting voter last week said it was not enough to ban Styrofoam alone. She said, in effect, only a much broader ban of contaminants would be worthwhile.
Banning Styrofoam in Mashpee would obviously have no impact whatsoever on the amount of plastic washing up on, say, the coast of Madagascar. There wouldn’t even be a discernible difference in the amount of Styrofoam that ends up in Nantucket Sound.
But a ban on plastic straws and Styrofoam would have a very real impact on the level of awareness among Mashpee residents and the visitors who come here. And raising awareness is no small accomplishment. It means people will think twice when they are served with a Styrofoam cup elsewhere. It might work its way into conversations with others. It might mean they think about other plastics they use.
It is not just the cost of environmental remediation that makes the problem of pollution so difficult to grapple with; it is also our collective consciousness, which on many levels is just beginning to register the magnitude of the problem.
That’s where Mashpee’s ban on plastic straws and Styrofoam can make a difference.