Taxpayers attending Special Town Meeting Monday night, October 28, had to navigate a gauntlet of advocates—and causes—as they walked from the parking lot into the Sandwich High School auditorium.
The most visible—and vocal—were students lining the sidewalk bearing anti-plastic-bottle placards and chanting slogans reminiscent of the anti-war protests of their grandparents’ era.
“What do we want?”
“No more plastic.”
“When do we want it?”
They held poster-sized white signs that said, “Save the Plastic for the Kardashians;” “It All Starts With You!” and, simply, “Yes on #9.”
Once inside, the students had to wait until the tail-end of a long and passion-filled Town Meeting on issues ranging from a new senior center to a disc golf course.
But the wait was worth it. The students and other environmental advocates emerged victorious in their quest to ban the use and sale of single-use plastic bottles on municipal property.
Many supporters were prepared to speak on the topic, but following a few presentations—including ones by Mary Cote, spokeswoman for Sustainable Practices, and Jacob Swenson, Sandwich High’s senior class president—someone in the audience called for a vote.
“The students spent hours getting here on a school night,” Jacob Swenson told the unusually large crowd that turned out for the Town Meeting. “We now have the opportunity to be on the right side of history. Vote for the environment! Vote for the children!”
The audience of more than 900 people responded by overwhelmingly shouting “yea” when Town Moderator Garry N. Blank asked for a voice vote.
There were several “nay” votes, as well, but Mr. Blank declared “Article 9 does carry.”
The students cheered and hugged each other.
The ban means that the Town of Sandwich will not purchase or sell beverages in single-use plastic containers on town property, including the schools.
Jacob Swenson and Ms. Cote have advocated for the movement to ban single-use plastics comes as landfills have become overwhelmed by such containers—at a rate of 38 million bottles a year.
Millions of bottles also end up on roadways, beaches and oceans.
Sustainable Practices, a Brewster-based group that began the Capewide campaign for municipal bans, has said the United States is responsible for 60 percent of the world’s consumption of water out of plastic bottles despite only having 4.5 percent of the world’s population.
Jacob Swenson, and the many students he has enlisted in the cause, would like the schools to replace plastic bottle vending machines with water-cooling stations and paper cups and/or aluminum cans.
Ms. Cote and other group members have explained in letters and discussions that plastics are polluting the oceans, cluttering the landscape and harming wildlife. Recycling efforts are not enough to rid the environment of containers that never biodegrade, the group says.
The ban approved on Monday will specifically prohibit the town from purchasing or selling beverages in small, or “single-use,” plastic bottles, according to the citizens petition that was drafted by Sustainable Practices members.
Six Cape Cod towns have already enacted such bylaws, according to Ms. Cote, a Sandwich resident and member of the advocacy group.
“Banning single-use bottles on a municipal level is a good place to start. The purpose of government is to protect the public welfare, which is why we, Sustainable Practices, are calling on local governments to support the Municipal Plastic Bottle Ban,” the group wrote in a letter to the Enterprise last month.
“We will be back,” Ms. Cote said on Monday as she was leaving the auditorium after the vote.
In a related Town Meeting vote, a citizens petition asked that the town form an 11-member green committee, known as the Net Zero Volunteer Task Force to “Develop strategies, plans and recommendations to achieve within 5 to 30 years an annual balance of zero greenhouse gas emissions from building operations.”
Originally, petition author Anne Shea was asking that the town appropriate $1,000 for the formation of the task force but she later said the money would not be needed.
The taxpayers approved the idea, but indefinitely postponed a second petition submitted by Ms. Shea seeking an additional $3 million to make the proposed senior center an environmentally friendly building.
Specifically the petition asked that the Center for Active Living—which was also overwhelmingly approved by voters on Monday night—be made an environmentally friendly building.
Specifically, the petition asked that the Center For Active Living be constructed with “alternative energy components necessary to achieve net zero emissions.”