Last year as a junior in high school I took an environmental science course where I was asked to assess an environmental issue of importance to my town. I chose to look at plastics bags and the impact a five-cent fee would have on the residents and businesses in Brunswick.
As part of my research I joined a group called “Bring Your Own Bag Midcoast.” BYOB Midcoast promotes the use of reusable bags, a ban on polystyrene, and a five-cent fee on plastic bags in all of our local towns. Although my environmental science course played a role in how I got involved, I think my experience last summer (I participated in a marine program through the Chewonki Foundation) allowed me see firsthand the pollution in Maine waters and how most of the items found in the water were there because of human choices. What I gained from that experience was desire to seek out and embrace opportunities to try and help prevent these items from even entering into the water by helping to support policy that would limit their usage.
In March, the chair of BYOB, Marcia Harrington, asked if I would like to go collect polystyrene along the Androscoggin River. We thought that if we could physically show the Town Council the prevalence of polystyrene along Brunswick’s shores it might help persuade them to address this issue.
On March 21, I spoke before the Brunswick Town Council at the hearing on the proposed polystyrene ordinance. As part of my presentation, I showed them a large, clear bag full of Styrofoam pieces I had collected the day before along the banks of the Androscoggin. In my short speech, I emphasized that this large amount of Styrofoam took me less than ninety minutes to collect from approximately 300 feet of shoreline. I asked the Council to then imagine how many pieces litter the shores of the entire Maine coast. The Town Council voted unanimously that night to pass the ordinance, banning the sale or use of polystyrene by Brunswick businesses.
Our next step at BYOB is to work on passing the five-cent fee on single use bags in Brunswick, and other local towns. Like anything, we need to take this one step at a time, and help businesses and residents understand that this is in everyone’s best long term interest.
—Guest post and photos by Alwyn Ecker