WHITMAN — Articles urging a ban on single-use plastic check-out bags and polystyrene food containers and beverage cups, sponsored by petition from students at WHRHS Environmental Awareness Club were approved at the Wednesday, June 2 annual Town Meeting.
The article borrowed from similar efforts passed in Hanson two years ago. The Whitman article provides businesses until January 2022 to prepare and gives the Board of Health discretion to permit more time for businesses up to six additional months.
The Bylaw Study Committee had voted to recommend that the article be passed over for further study to be brought before a future Town Meeting.
Former Town Administrator echoed that suggestion, arguing that it only came to the town 45 days ago. He wanted to give the town more time to research it.
“I want to recognize that a number of students have really worked at this, and I’m impressed with their commitment to their community and to sustainability, but, regrettably I’d like to make a motion to pass over this article,” Lynam said.
There was also some question about whether the students could speak at Town Meeting, but a previous article had resolved that issue, permitting non-voters to speak on articles they sponsor.
School Committee member Christopher Scriven spoke in favor of the article moving forward, asking what specific aspects of the articles were not clear.
“We don’t know what the businesses in town are prepared to do, or how easily or quickly they can make that transition,” Lynam said, also advocating that town counsel review and approve whatever language is used.
Selectman Justin Evans initially spoke for the students, before a point of order on the previous article’s passage opened the door for them.
“It may not seem like a big deal to you because plastic bags have been around as long as many of us can remember, but doesn’t it seem a bit sad that you frequently see the evidence of this problem when trying to enjoy a walk in our town?” Evans quoted from a statement the students wrote. “We’ve all seen a bag stuck in a tree or a coffee cup along the side of the road in a bush … it poses a risk to the natural world around us, one that we don’t feel we can responsibly ignore.”
Resident Shawn Kain made a motion to allow the students to speak, which was approved by the Town Meeting.
“Passing these articles would help improve our environment so greatly, even if we can’t see the effects now,” said Riley Getchel of Whitman, president of the environmental club. She noted that she is constantly reminded of the issue by a plastic bag stuck in a tree near her house.
“By making more environmentally friendly decisions, I’ve had a cleaner conscience, knowing I’m doing my part to protect the planet that provides for us,” said student Sarah Regan, who noted other materials could easily be swapped out for plastic.
Plastic also contaminates water supplies, never completely breaks down and effects 60 percent of towns in the state.
DPW Highway Superintendent Bruce Martin agreed that article is a great idea, because neither the bags nor the polystyrene cups and containers can go in recycle bins.