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Vermont Senators Hope Town Meeting Day Votes Spur Support For Statewide Single-Use Plastic Ban

A plastic bag
Josh Landes

On Town Meeting Day, three towns in Vermont approved non-binding resolutions calling on their communities to ban the use of plastic bags.  Other towns in the state had previously passed similar measures.  Sponsors of a bill in the Vermont Senate hope this week’s support will lead to progress in the Statehouse for their proposal.
During Town Meetings on Tuesday in Burlington, Middlebury and during Manchester’s floor vote on Saturday, residents approved resolutions calling for bans of single use plastic bags.  Brattleboro has already imposed such a ban.  Last November, voters in Montpelier approved a move seeking a charter change allowing a ban on single-use plastics.

Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chair Senator Christopher Bray, a Democrat from Addison, is the lead sponsor of a measure that would impose a statewide ban. "There’s a lot of local interest and I’ve been interested in doing this myself but I haven’t seen the Legislature willing to take it up. So I wanted to build on local interest and bring it forward as a statewide plastic bag ban.  But actually S.113 is quite a bit broader. It’s a comprehensive single-use plastics, the many things that come in either foam cups or foam containers or those clamshell containers that all sorts of carry out food is in these days.  They’re all polystyrene and they all are part of this same single-use plastic stream that is problematic.”

The Senate proposal includes a requirement that the Agency of Natural Resources create a working group to assess how well municipalities implement the proposed ban. Bray says legislators need to be sure a ban does not create logistical problems.  “We need to make sure there are reasonable alternatives that are cost-effective and also non-polluting. The encouraging thing that I’ve learned from Brattleboro was that they were not in a rush. They took their time to work things through. This bill takes that same approach.”

State Senator Becca Balint, a Democratic co-sponsor of S.113, represents the district that includes Brattleboro where a local ban was implemented last year.  “We’ve already done it in Brattleboro. We’ve already done it in these other communities and it has not been a huge drain either on businesses or an inconvenience  to customers.  That’s what legislators want to know ‘cause they want to know how does it impact my neighbors on the ground. And we know that plastics are harmful. This is not new information, right?  Sometimes it just takes the people on the ground pushing us in the legislature to be a little more bold. So when towns take the initiative in Vermont that’s gold. That’s pure gold. You can come and say my town wanted this.”

Co-sponsor Senator Brian Campion, a Democrat from Bennington, says he plans to uncompromisingly push for a statewide ban on the plastics.  “I’m certainly going to push for the ban.  It’s really I think confusing when you have municipalities throughout the state some doing some things others doing other things.  I haven’t heard much pushback at all from retailers or grocers or even large chain grocery stores. And constituents are behind it. And you know a state law will get rid of any ambiguity. So I think again it’ll just allow for a very direct law across the state that will help everyone.”  

Williston Democratic Senator Ginny Lyons agrees that a single statewide policy is more sensible than a patchwork of varied regulations.  “Having a single policy across the state makes a huge amount of sense. Not only that I think Vermonters have spoken that this is what we value in our state and we would like to eliminate this source of pollution that we see on our streets and in our woods.”

The Vermont bill to ban single-use plastics is currently being reviewed by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

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