Select Board Opposes Ban On Carry-Out Plastic Containers, Cutlery

By: Bronwen Walsh

Topics: Recycling and Solid Waste , restaurants


BREWSTER – The select board on Monday voted not to support a citizens’ petition asking town meeting voters to ban re-usable plastic food containers and cutlery by fall 2024.

“We’re all trying to do the right thing,” Bud Ohman, co-owner of Kate’s Fried Seafood and Ice Cream, said. “I recycle every piece of cardboard in the restaurant. The last thing we need is another mandate. Try telling someone from New York that they’re not going to get a straw with their chocolate soda.”

The timing of the proposed ban, a citizens’ petition filed by Vic Roberts, is very difficult for seasonal small businesses, said Rob Slaven, owner of Cobies, who estimated it would be about five times more expensive to replace plastic with bamboo alternatives.

“Right now, today, for us to just say, we’re going to get rid of plastic…it would be an unbelievable economic hardship,” Slaven said. People bringing their own containers or silverware to the Cape, “we’re just not there yet. Like it or not, we use plastic a lot. It’s a big part of our industry. Big-box companies ship lots of their stuff in plastic. If food were packaged another way…food costs would be doubled.

“The problem is much bigger. It’s a socioeconomic problem,” he said. “We all know this is coming. It’s just a matter of time. It’s coming, but it will take time.”

Cost does not take into consideration the long-term consequences of these plastic products, said Madhavi Venkatesan, founder and executive director of Sustainable Practices and an architect of the municipal plastic water bottle bans currently in place in all 15 Cape Cod towns.

“Convenience is costing us more,” Venkatesan said. “If we just give people the time to make the adjustment, that time will take longer and longer. We believe the time is now.”

Recycling is not a “solve,” she said. “Right now, we only recycle about 12 percent of all plastic. It is what we’re consuming and what we are putting back in our environment that is fundamentally killing us. Urgency requires us to make these changes today. It’s an impact that sends a signal that convenience is something that costs us more.”

Brewster has been at the forefront of regional recycling efforts, having committed a lot of resources to install hydration stations, said select board member Mary Chaffee.
“I fully support reducing our dependence on plastic, but we also need to ask about community impact,” she said, adding that many local restaurants are still reeling from pandemic-related business losses.

Education takes time and planning, said board member Kari Hoffmann.

There are multiple options and alternatives, Venkatesan said; it’s a matter of weighing the consequences.

“We are paying for disposal costs,” she said. “Dioxins are created when you burn plastic. The best thing you’re going to have, potentially, is groundwater contamination” from plastic disposals at landfills.

“Not only do we contaminate the air we breathe, the land that we live on, the oceans are also impacted,” Venkatesan said. “Plastic has become ‘a disposal issue,’ neglecting the other lifecycle components.”

There are 170 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, and plastic production is expected to double in the next 10 years, tripling this number, Roberts said.
“All that plastic doesn’t biodegrade,” he said. “Plastics are not edible, yet scientists estimate that we eat about a credit card’s worth of plastics every week.”

“We know it’s bad for us. We know it’s bad for the environment,” said select board Vice Chairman Ned Chatelain. “I hope we get there sooner than later, but I am wary of making such a small segment of the population responsible.”

Board member Cynthia Bingham applauded Cobies, saying “the people who serve me always ask, ‘Do you want the utensils?’”

Likewise, Ohman said more than half of Kate’s customers decline plastic utensils because they’re ordering take-out and dining at home.

The vote to support the petition was one in favor, two opposed and two abstaining, but the matter isn’t going away anytime soon. Roberts' petition will be brought to town meeting, and Venkatesan said she plans to circulate similar petitions Capewide.