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Corinna Barnard
Single-use water bottles from Egremont’s 2018 annual roadside cleanup. Great Barrington’s ban can only help reduce this type of trash in years ahead.

Egremont Green News: More trash last year in Egremont, underscoring need for plastic bottle ban

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By Thursday, Dec 6, 2018 Life In the Berkshires

Egremont — With proud smiles, like fishermen with a whopper at the end of the line, they hold up tiny bags to show how little of their trash could not be diverted that week.

This is in the eco-friendly district of the Internet, where you can find people who seem to be really excited about working to reduce the amount of trash they generate.

Plenty of people here in Egremont have been doing that, as well, helping to reduce our “waste line,” a tonnage measurement of household castoffs that cannot be recycled and must be hauled off to landfill or a waste-to-energy incineration plant 30 miles away.

At the transfer station, more and more detailed collections have been diverting things from the trash dumpster into recycling streams for plastic and glass, paper and cardboard, and metals. An “upcycling” swap shop, along with a community email, enables neighbors to pass along their giveaways. There is a place to put certain types of heavy-duty plastic wrap; a small bin on a table at Town Hall takes spent rechargeable batteries.

Last year all of this gave us a cause for celebration.

In 2017, for the first time in several years, our “waste line” fell under the 400-ton mark. Despite the rise of a throwaway mentality bred by an influx of short-lived, inexpensive retail items manufactured in low-wage foreign countries—(why fix it when it’s cheaper to buy a new replacement?)—Egremont had proved its ability to resist a rising tide of junk. Amazing—we seemed to be the living embodiment of the upbeat tale of the “little engine that could.” It was a proud moment and raised hopes of losing more trash in the years ahead. We spoke with more confidence about our admittedly aspirational goal of becoming a “zero waste” town.

But this year’s data leave us feeling like yo-yo dieters on the weight-gaining rebound. Our trash tonnage has gone up and not by a couple of tons, but by a solid 35—almost 10 percent. We can only contemplate this with a sense of defeat and dismay.

What went wrong? Part of the problem was the demise of a collection system that had been extracting 7 tons of broken plastic chairs and other types of “bulky rigid plastic” from the trash stream. As to the gain of 28 other tons, a stronger economy in the past year may have caused people to buy more and also trash more. The rise of vacation rentals could also be a factor, since out-of-town and out-of-state visitors are less likely to know the local recycling requirements (and just might throw everything into a single trash bag, as is the custom in many other places). Product packaging could also be getting more excessive.

We really don’t know.

But it’s demoralizing to be going backward when we thought we were going in the right direction. It brings to mind the global nature of the problem, as symbolized by the Great Pacific garbage patch that researchers say is more than half a million square miles in size.

In a tour of other disturbing situations, this Washington Post video scans the trash problem of several major cities around the world. “Drowning in our own waste” is how the despondent-sounding narrator expresses it. “Each day,” he sighs, “the globe is producing 3.5 million tons of waste.”

Against such a bleak backdrop, it’s good to have Great Barrington as our neighbor shining a bright ray of light. The town has been one of the few to take notable steps to fight plastic trash.

First came Great Barrington’s ban on plastic shopping bags, passed in 2013. (Studies on plastic bag bans in the U.K. have shown that they do lower the amount of plastic waste that winds up in the ocean, even if overall levels keep rising due to other types of added plastic debris.)

Corinna Barnard, author of this article, is a member of the Egremont Green Committee.

And during this past year, Great Barrington banned single-use plastic water bottles. Since the ban takes effect in May 2019, it won’t have much effect on Egremont’s next annual trash figures—which will be totaled up at the end of June. But it can only help us push ahead on the goal of zero waste in years to come.

So, thanks to the Environmental Committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group for proposing and advocating for the ban, and for everyone else who worked on it and voted for it. Last month, another dead whale was found with its stomach full of various types of plastic trash: flip-flops, beverage cups, plastic bags and plastic bottles. Think about that and you can be sure you did the right thing.

These bans, like the current nationwide retreat from plastic straws, are not total solutions. But they are important. They show the way toward a more sustainable world. And they keep hope and inspiration alive.

The Egremont Green Committee can be reached at egremont.green@gmail.com.

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