Montpelier intends to add its name to the list of 350 U.S. cities that have enacted some sort of ban on the kind of single-use plastic bags. The voters decide on a charter change proposed on the November 6 ballot. A “yes” vote on Article 4 would add an amendment to the city charter that gives the city council the authority to “regulate, license, or prohibit, within the boundaries of the City, point of sale distribution of non-reusable plastic bags, non-reusable plastic straws and similar plastic products that are not reusable, and to define what constitutes reusable in this context.”
If the charter change is passed and approved by the state legislature, as required by law, the council would begin to craft an ordinance that would achieve one of the goals it set at an April brainstorming session. The devil, of course, will be in the details.
Like those other 350 cities, including Brattleboro, the council will have several issues to hammer out if and when it sits down to create the ban, such as which bags to ban; whether to include the thin-film bulk food and produce bags; floral wraps; and the ubiquitous bags intended to pick up and dispose of dog waste.
“Any ordinance that we write is going to be surrounded in a robust public process,” Mayor Anne Watson said. “This is giving us the door to start having the conversation in the first place. We want to hear from people what works and what doesn’t work, and be able to craft this in a way that both helps the environment and is respectful to people’s needs.”
By now, most people are aware of the massive island of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii. Recent studies show the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” to be about three times larger than previously believed. At 617,000 square miles it is now twice the size of Texas, according to “Scientific Reports,” which is published by the journal Nature. While that is the largest such concentration, there are plastic islands swirling in at least five oceanic gyres, or circulating currents, around the world.
It was video of that floating dump that convinced District 2 City Councilor Conor Casey to take up the cause and push for a ban on plastic bags in the capital city. He has been lobbying to reduce plastic waste for more than a decade, tracing back to his days as political director of the Vermont State Employees Association and later as executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party.
He sees the limited ban on single-use bags in Montpelier as the springboard to a larger discussion about regulating all forms of plastic pollution. “I would say, eventually, I see everything being taken off,” he said. The question is “do we start with what we have or is it best to rip off the Band-Aid and do everything at once.” The council decided to take a more targeted approach and then “take the temperature of the town,” he said.
“We know that there’s an easy replacement for plastic bags,” said Mayor Watson, citing reusable canvas bags. “We want to be really careful about how we apply it [the charter change], and this will be the mechanism that allows us to move forward with any kind of ban.”