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Martha’s Vineyard town passes ban on plastic soda and water bottles

Students from the town of West Tisbury, on Martha's Vineyard, helped get a bylaw passed that would ban the sale of plastic soda and water bottles that are 34 ounces or less.
Students from the town of West Tisbury, on Martha's Vineyard, helped get a bylaw passed that would ban the sale of plastic soda and water bottles that are 34 ounces or less.Plastic Free MV/Facebook/Facebook

Soon it could be hard to locate a frosty Coke in a plastic bottle in one Martha’s Vineyard town.

Thanks to a group of young students, plastic bottles of a certain size could be banned from West Tisbury — and it might be the start of an island-wide trend.

Residents in West Tisbury overwhelmingly voted at Town Meeting last week to eliminate the sale and distribution of plastic water and soda bottles that are less than 34 ounces. (A liter is 33.8 ounces.)

The bylaw still needs to be approved by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. But if she signs off, it will go into effect in May 2020, according to town officials.

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According to the language of the bylaw, the ban covers beverages such as “non-carbonated, unflavored water” as well as “‘soft drinks,’ being any beverage containing carbonated water, a sweetener (including fruit juice) and/or a flavoring.”

The bylaw covers “smaller, single-use bottles for sodas, seltzers, juices, all of that — anything that’s a liter or under,” said West Tisbury Town Clerk Tara Whiting-Wells, who will be sending the proposal to Healey’s office.

The bylaw would not affect visitors coming to the island with their own drinks, officials said.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a traffic stop violation, no,” Whiting-Wells joked.

Several West Tisbury storeowners who will be affected by the ban did not immediately return a request for comment about how they plan to adapt.

But Jennifer Rand, West Tisbury town administrator, said there was little to no pushback from businesses once the discussion was on the floor in front of voters, before the bylaw was officially passed.

“We had a business owner stand up and say they had concerns at first, and I knew they had had concerns, but by the time they got to Town Meeting they said, ‘We thought about it, we support it, it won’t be easy for us, but we’re behind this,’” Rand said.

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Students from the West Tisbury School, with the help of environmental activist and teacher Annemarie Ralph, are being credited for moving the ban forward on non-reusable bottles.

A group of primarily fifth- and sixth-graders, under the name Plastic Free MV, had been working diligently since October to get the proposal in front of voters during last week’s annual Town Meeting.

In a video from the meeting shared with the Globe, students wearing “Plastic Free MV” shirts can be seen approaching the microphone in front of a sea of adults before pitching their proposition.

“West Tisbury has the opportunity to be a leader and an inspiration for change,” one student says to the crowd. “We are looking to you to help make a better future for us all.”

Following their speeches, the ban was “quickly and unanimously approved” by residents, according to the Vineyard Gazette.

According to the Associated Press, several Massachusetts communities have bans on smaller, single-use plastic water bottles, including Concord, Great Barrington, and Sudbury.

The West Tisbury vote takes the ban a step further, with its limits on soda bottles as well. The move is being hailed by some environmental groups as a “first-of-its-kind” in the nation, the MV Times reported.

“We did it!!!,” Plastic Free MV wrote on its Facebook page April 9, after the bylaw passed. “West Tisbury is now the first town in North America perhaps the world to ban both single use plastic water and soda bottles under 34 ounces! It passed unanimously! Thank you voters of West Tisbury.”

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Rand, the town administrator, said she was impressed with the students’ poise and delivery on the night of the vote.

“I will tell you, I was very proud of the students. They did an amazing job of presenting their article to Town Meeting,” she said. “They were professional, they were well prepared, and they sold it — it was a unanimous vote.”

The ban in West Tisbury, which had a population of 2,740 in the 2010 US Census, would not affect other towns on the island.

However, Ralph, the teacher who worked with the students on writing the language for the proposed ban, said this could be the start of a trend on Martha’s Vineyard: both Aquinnah and Chilmark have similar proposals on their respective Town Meeting dockets soon, she said.

“We are hoping it passes in both of those towns, and we are working to get the other three island towns onboard,” she said in an e-mail to the Globe.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.