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Ban the bag? Duo seeks end to plastic bags in Middlebury

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Posted on May 7, 2018 |
By Christopher Ross



MIDDLEBURY — If they were balled up to the size of tennis balls, the disposable plastic shopping bags used in Middlebury every year would fill up more than three tractor-trailers — maybe even as many as six.

Few of those bags stayed balled up, however, and most of them find their way to landfills.

Middlebury resident Amy McAninch and Middlebury College sophomore Amelia Miller have proposed a solution to this excess waste: a townwide ban on single-use, carry-out plastic bags.

“We are poisoning ourselves with plastic,” McAninch said. “We’re harming wildlife and polluting streams and oceans.”

McAninch and Miller late last month urged the Middlebury selectboard to ban the use of plastic bags by retailers in town.

In an interview last week McAninch pointed to a recent New York Times op-ed suggesting that the number of plastic bags used each year globally, if tied end to end, would “stretch to the moon and back 13 times.”

In Middlebury alone, according to research Miller conducted for a course on conservation and environmental policy, the average resident uses hundreds of single-use plastic bags every year, for a total between 2.5 million and 4.5 million in Middlebury each year.

“The average bag is used for 12 minutes,” McAninch said.

McAninch and Miller brought their proposed ban to the Middlebury selectboard late last month

When McAninch and Miller spoke to the selectboard April 24 about Miller’s research and a possible ban on plastic bags, selectboard member Victor Nuovo said the ban has “great merit,” but it would require a town ordinance, which could be requested through a citizen’s petition.

McAninch and Miller need at least 251 signatures — equal to 5 percent of the town’s registered voters — to put the question on next year’s town meeting ballot. The results of that vote would be nonbinding, but could put pressure on the selectboard to adopt a ban.

Brattleboro voters overwhelmingly approved such a prohibition last year, inspiring the town’s selectboard to pass an ordinance regulating the use of thin-film plastic bags, which will go into effect July 1. Still allowed are bags used for such purposes as protecting dry cleaning, newspapers, bulk foods, hard cheese, cold cuts, raw meat or baked goods.

McAninch and Miller hope for a similar ordinance in Middlebury.

Compared with municipal bans that include such things as Styrofoam, drinking straws and supermarket vegetable bags, “this one would be fairly modest,” McAninch said. And people would still be able to buy bags for kitchen, lawn or other garbage, she added.

She began working on the project last September after she read about a similar ban in a Connecticut town. After Middlebury selectboard member Laura Asermily responded to her inquiries with a wealth of helpful information, McAninch began speaking with local retailers.

Large corporations like Hannaford, with stores in multiple states, already have experience adjusting to plastic-bag bans, McAninch said. Hannaford’s community liaison, Jan Phelps, assured McAninch that the Middlebury store could be compliant with any town ordinance “virtually overnight.”

Thanks to Asermily, McAninch met Miller last month, and the two have been working together ever since.

They plan to have their petition ready for circulation by June 1. Since Miller will by then have left town for summer break, McAninch will recruit volunteers to gather what she hopes will be as many as 1,000 signatures, roughly 20 percent of the town’s registered voters, she said.

Further plans include applying for grants that would allow them to purchase reusable bags, which they would give away to town residents.

The ban would help the environment by reducing plastic use, Miller said, but their project is bigger than that.

“A lot of it is about mind-set. The first time you go to the store you might say, ‘Oh, I forgot my (reusable) bags.’ Then you get used to it. After a while, you begin to think, ‘What else am I using that I don’t need?’ I think that’s a really good conversation to have.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Amy McAninch at [email protected].

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]

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