January 29 2019

Plastic Bag Ban Narrowly Approved by Town Meeting

By: Rich Hosford

After a somewhat lengthy and widespread discussion on Monday night Town Meeting narrowly approved a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags at Burlington retailers.


The ban includes all “checkout bags” that are made of plastic and are equal to or less than 3 mils thick. There are exemptions to the ban, including bags used for produce or other “bulk” items. Other exemptions include laundry or dry cleaning bags and bags sold in packages containing multiple bags such as trash bags, storage bags and those used for pet waste and yard waste disposal.


According to the language of the warrant article the ban will go into effect 120 days after it is approved by the state attorney general.


The ban was first proposed by two Burlington High School students, Stavan Shah and Ricky Vittum, who argued that plastic bags cause significant environmental damage. In a presentation before Town Meeting in September they argued the bags cause significant amounts of pollutants to be released when they are made and that they do not biodegrade so last in the environment for a very long time. They said the bags end up in trees, on the ground and, most significantly, in waterways and oceans where they break down into tiny plastic particles that can be eaten by fish and other underwater wildlife.


During Monday night’s discussion the main opposition to the ban was expressed by people concerned that getting rid of plastic bags would only move people to use more paper bags. Shah and Vittum said the ideal response was for people to use reusable bags but others said they thought the likely option was paper. Further, some argued that the production of paper bags, which requires the cutting of trees, would also negatively affect the environment.


There were also arguments that the production of both paper and reusable bags have a big carbon footprint as well and that it would require using reusable bags hundreds of times to make up the difference.


I’m against doing something that we think is the right direction but isn’t,” Town Meeting Member Tom Conley said.


However, others argued that the impact of Burlington banning plastic bags, which 90 other Massachusetts cities and town have either done or are considering, wouldn’t have a big impact on global climate change either way. Instead, they said, the ban would likely reduce the amount of plastic waste found on the ground and in the waterways in town.


“I think that single use everything has become a way of life in developed countries and for a lot of applications it’s not particularly good, it chews up resources and creates litter,” Town Meeting member Frank Monaco said. “I think this is a good place to start - it goes in the right direction and gets everybody going in the right direction. I see no reason not to do this except it will be inconvenient. I think arguing the science is pointless at this point and I am going to vote in favor of it.”


In the end Town Meeting voted 52-45 in favor of the article.


Shah and Vittum, who both argued passionately during the meeting for their cause, said they were happy to see the article approved.


“It kind of hasn’t hit me yet,” Vittum said. “We put in all this work and to see it accomplished with hard work and persistence is an amazing feeling.”


“I’m very excited and look forward to making a good environmental decision that will better our town,” Shah said.


Both student activists said they appreciate all the people, including teachers and town officials, who supported them and helped them get to this point.


“We had such a large support group and I appreciate every single one of them,” Shah said. “Everyone did a huge, vital part in helping us with this success. My gratitude towards all of them.”


“Everyone who helped us out they were a huge help,” Vittum said. “For Example Ms. [Martha] Simon, Ms Graham and Ms. Diozzi they have been so helpful. They gave us links and info to help us get this passed.”

Vittum added the pair were also helped greatly by Town Meeting members Nick Priest, Andy Wells-Bean and Larry Cohen.


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