Middlebury residents will vote on whether to enact legislation that would ban plastic bags within the community on March 5. A Town Hall meeting will take place the night before the vote, giving residents, business owners and members of the Selectboard a chance to discuss the proposed ban and its possible implications before making their decision.
Middlebury resident Amy McAninch and Middlebury College student Amelia Miller ’20 are spearheading the movement to ban plastic bags. Prompted by the news of other towns that have approved plastic bag bans, McAninch said she “felt really strongly that we could do this.” Since then, they have held several meetings throughout town to hear concerns, questions and suggestions about the bag ban.
On Feb. 12, two of these meetings were held at the Residence at Otter Creek, an Independent and Assisted Living Facility in Middlebury and the Ilsley Public Library. The meetings have been happening in town for months now, and McAninch and Miller’s hard work has paid off: the signatures on their petition were verified by the Town Clerk in January, which means the proposal can be voted upon in the Town Meeting. Should the motion go through, the Selectboard will then manage the exact wording and logistics of the program.
The benefits of a ban are clear from a sustainability viewpoint. The Mass Green Plastic Bag Cost Calculator shows that the town of Middlebury, with a population of 8,500, uses about 4,513,500 bags every year. These bags cost retailers $180,540 each year — a figure that doesn’t include the environmental impacts of the plastic production.
As it is now, consumers can choose to use reusable bags or recycled plastic or paper bags. However, those involved in the movement to ban plastic bags are not confident that shoppers will consistently opt for alternatives, continuing generally to use the bags supplied by retailers. The thin composition of these bags poses a problem. They can break, blow into the water, or turn into microplastic particles, thereby contaminating water sources or threatening wildlife.
The Mother Up!: Families Rise Up for Climate Change group, a project of 350Vermont, met in late January to discuss potentially banning plastic bags in Middlebury. The group, run by Ashley Laux of the college’s Center for Community Engagement, meets once a month to take action against climate change. The structure of the group mirrors similar groups throughout other Vermont communities, designed to provide a forum for families to be proactive in climate change action while also balancing their familial responsibilities. Past issues included eco-Sabbath days, where consumers change their patterns of behavior to “try to live lighter on the earth”, explained Laux. She feels that the group has helped her learn more about causes she might not have otherwise engaged with as well as making her a more conscientious consumer and environmental activist.
The group meets once a month in the Town Recreation Center, where dinner and childcare are provided by 350Vermont. According to their Facebook page, Mother Up!: Families Rise Up for Climate Action represents “a network of parents across Vermont who are coming together to take organized, empowered action to protect the health and safety of our collective future.”
The participants in the Middlebury chapter of the project engage in local action, as highlighted in January’s meeting where community members brainstormed the best ways to campaign on behalf of the ban. From letters to the Front Porch Forum and the Addison County Independent to speaking at the Town Hall Meeting next month, parents are prepared to play an active role in the environmental movement in town. They also discussed the possibility of donating reusable bags in order to reduce the worry that getting rid of plastic bags would force people to buy new bags that might be unaffordable for some.
The engagement displayed by the Mother Up!: Families Rise Up for Climate Change is reflected in the community as a whole. McAninch noted that there has been very little pushback from community members at any of the meetings so far. In fact, she noted that the next step would be to tackle plastic straw usage in town.
Laura Asermily, a member of the Middlebury Selectboard, attended the meeting as well, appearing optimistic about the success of the proposed ban. She explained that last year, 70 percent of surveyed Middlebury residents supported a ban of this nature. However, it could take about a year from the time the town votes on the possible ban to its actual implementation. The Selectboard would need to finalize logistics of getting rid of plastic bags, from grandfathering them out to providing a cheap and sustainable alternative. Those details could take a while, explained Asermily, but they would also create great change for the community.
In the meantime, Mother Up!: Families Rise Up for Climate Action has turned their efforts towards the capital. In February, the group is planning to have their children make Valentines for the Earth to deliver to the state legislature in Montpelier on their Annual Lobby Day in an effort to encourage more eco-friendly laws. Hopefully, their civic-minded dedication will provide dividends as residents cast their ballots on Feb. 5.
Middlebury students can support the ban by not using plastic bags and, whenever possible, patronizing stores who support the bag ban and are committed to building an environmentally sustainable town. Registered Middlebury voters can add their names to the petition by emailing [email protected]