On October 10th, Nantucketers voted to regulate petroleum-based, single-use plastics at the Special Town Meeting. This idea was posed by Bruce Mandel, who initiated the petition against single-use plastics on Nantucket. Once the article is reviewed by the Massachusetts Attorney General, the regulation will become an official bylaw. Starting June 1st, 2019, commercial businesses will no longer be allowed to use, sell or distribute nip bottles, coffee pods, six-pack yokes, single-use plastic food containers, lids, as well as plates and utensils. The exception to this bylaw will be during a state of emergency in which Nantucket’s tap water is undrinkable. In this case, citizens will be allowed to access bottled water until seven days after the emergency has ended. Another exception is for medical equipment that cannot be replaced by recyclable options, and plant-based plastics are not included in the regulation.
The Town Manager has been put in charge of enforcing this regulation. First offenses will include a warning, but secondary offenses will require a $100 fine. After the third offense, offenders will have to pay $200 each day they continue to break the law. This regulation has been posed, among other reasons, on the grounds that only eight percent of the world’s plastic is recycled, while the remaining 92 percent of plastic ends up in a landfill or polluting our oceans and other natural ecosystems. Bruce Mandel reasons that the bylaw is “about protecting our aquifer, our drinking water and groundwater, extending the useful life of our landfill. It’s about plastic litter on our beaches, along our roads and bike paths. We know that our single source aquifer needs to be protected from toxic resins in these plastics that can leach into the groundwater. We are smarter about recycling now, so we want to stop the flow of plastics that are almost impossible to recycle before it gets to Nantucket.” Microplastics are traveling up the food chain from shellfish to humans, and these same particles are found in bottled water. When people come in contact with chemicals leached from plastic (such as BPA, flame retardants, PVC, etc.), they are at greater risk of developing cancer, weaker immune and endocrine systems, and other illnesses. The list goes on.
Meanwhile, the need to protect our environments is becoming more important than ever. The United Nations have recently released their Fifth Assessment Report on climate change. In their report, they stated that there was an 0.85 degrees Celsius increase in global average temperature from 1880 to 2012, and from 1990 to 2100, this increase is predicted to reach about 1-2 degrees Celsius. Already, sea levels have risen 19 centimeters from 1901 to 2010; by 2100, sea levels are predicted to be about 40-63 centimeters higher than those in 2005. In order to produce plastics, fossil fuels must be extracted, as plastics themselves are a petroleum product. Oil drilling releases air pollutants and natural gas can escape from underground reserves during the process as well. It is estimated by that for every ounce of polyethylene made, five ounces of carbon dioxide are released. Reducing plastic means reducing fossil fuel use, as eight percent of the world’s oil is used for making plastic.
Responses to the plastic regulation have varied, with both favorable to skeptical views being expressed. Ashley Erisman, Nantucket High School’s AP Environmental teacher and mentor of Students for Sustainability, said that “It is a step in the correct direction for the town; I think it will be difficult to implement, but it will make people aware.” Others, such as Lily Whelden, a sophomore at NHS, believe that the current efforts are simply not enough to protect our aquatic ecosystems; she states that “It’s a good idea … but there are many other ways we can go about doing it.” Ms. Erisman also suggests that the school starts evaluating how to replace plastic utensils in the cafeteria as well as single use plastic in the vending machines. Whatever further steps are implemented to keep our environments and climate healthy, Nantucketers can rest assured that our island has taken the first step.
By Tori Dixon