As the organization that wrote and advocated for the plastic bag ban now in effect across the Island, we at the Vineyard Conservation Society were deeply disappointed to learn of the recent change at the Stop & Shop locations on Martha’s Vineyard. Both stores are now using thicker plastic bags (measuring 4.0 mil) at checkout, a practice that adheres to the letter of the law while being entirely antithetical to its spirit.

We wish to emphasize that local management at Stop & Shop has been supportive of the bag ban from the start and continues to be a helpful partner in our efforts to reverse this unfortunate policy change by the larger corporation. The following is an excerpt of the letter we sent to the corporate office:

In 2016 and 2017, town meeting voters stated loudly and clearly that they were opposed to the single-use, disposable plastic bag. They did not affirmatively choose to switch to 4 mil plastic bags; rather, they supported our bylaw because it was a legally sound and enforceable method of achieving the true goal of reducing plastic bags.

These bylaws passed nearly unanimously in all towns. Our Island community’s overwhelming support of plastic bag reduction is due to deeply held concerns regarding 1) our marine environment, where plastics injure and kill wildlife, 2) wasted materials and energy, and 3) impacts on our recycling system.

None of our local waste handlers accepts plastic bags for recycling, and the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District has repeatedly stated that the bags are the most significant contaminant in their operation. By causing work stoppages and contaminating loads of recycling, plastic bags raise costs for the waste haulers, which are ultimately passed on to taxpayers.

We understand that Stop & Shop has at times offered collection programs for these bags. Yet, whether people are confused by a complicated system, or simply unwilling to use a less convenient option, the result is that most of the bags still end up in the general waste disposal system. We are also aware that the 4 mil bags are marketed as being “reusable,” and this is technically true: indeed many people do re-use them, at least once, such as for bagging garbage. (It is worth noting, however, that this was also true of the now-banned thinner bags.) However, the majority of customers will still perceive the new thick plastic bags as disposable, single use containers.

We believe there is a coming sea change toward more sustainable waste management. When China recently closed its doors to American recyclables, the higher costs for communities across the country was a wake-up call for many.

On our Island, that sea change is already here. Following implementation, our community has been highly supportive, even proud, of the bag ban. Instead of creating a backlash, it has sparked greater awareness of plastic pollution and led to calls for more waste reduction measures, such as the current efforts to reduce plastic straws, helium balloons, and disposable water bottles. The true purpose of this bag ban — the reduction, not the thickening, of plastic bags — represents the overwhelming desire of our Island community. The new 4 mil bags at Stop & Shop are a step in the exact opposite direction.

We are hopeful that Stop & Shop was simply unaware of the goals and purpose of the ban, and respectfully ask for the opportunity to meet in person to explain our concerns. The overwhelming passage of the bag ban represents a mandate from the community that must not be ignored. We believe Stop & Shop can be a valuable partner to further the steps toward sustainability that our Island is already taking. VCS wishes to work together on these, and future, initiatives in support of a greener and cleaner Martha’s Vineyard. We look forward to hearing from you.

Brendan O’Neill

West Tisbury