A few individuals and communities of the Berkshires were honored recently at the Statehouse for helping to change the tides on how disposable packaging is used in the commonwealth's communities.
Women Working for Oceans (W2O) and the Massachusetts Sierra Club in partnership with the New England Aquarium hosted the "Heroes of the Oceans" awards on Thursday to recognize the work behind effecting 27 plastic bans across 21 municipalities. The plastic bans include single-use plastic bags, bottles and polystyrene containers.
Williamstown resident Brad Verter, a professor at Emerson College in Boston, was on hand at the event to receive a citation for state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead. He helped push for plastic bag and polystyrene bans in Williamstown. Pittsfield resident Rinaldo Del Gallo III also was recognized for his work to ban polystyrene in Pittsfield, although he did not attend. Great Barrington leaders also successfully lobbied to ban plastic bags and polystyrene.
With 16 plastic bag bans, Massachusetts Sierra Club spokesman Clint Richmond said, the commonwealth has "more bag bans than any other state except California." The state also has eight polystyrene bans and two bills that limits the sale and purchase of water bottled in plastic. Nantucket and soon Greenfield, also have laws on the use of non-biodegradable packaging.
According to the Sierra Club, more than 100 billion plastic bags are used in the United States each year, littering parks, clogging gutters, and choking, strangling, and entangling whales, turtles, sea lions, seals, birds, fish and other animals. Mistaken for food, plastic bags wrap around wildlife's intestines, resulting in a slow and painful death.
Birds may use them for nesting, which can cause suffocation. Plastic bags do not biodegrade. Instead, they slowly fragment into smaller bits called microplastics which then contaminate soil, waterways, and oceans. Fish ingest plastics and humans, in turn, eat the fish.
The "Heroes of the Oceans" event is about encouraging plastic ban initiatives for the health of our communities and families, said W2O's Ellen Curren, who emceed the event. "Thoughtful choices will ultimately mean that there is a habit change, and the amount of single-use plastic in our waste stream will decrease. That means less plastic in the ocean and less plastics in humans," Curren said.
"We need to act now to stop irreversible plastic pollution," said Emily Norton, the Sierra Club's chapter director. "We need to return to sustainable packaging that is compatible with the environment."
New scientific studies have also brought awareness to harmful microbeads, a tiny plastic found in cosmetics and personal care products and the next challenge in the battle to ban plastic pollution. Massachusetts may soon join the nine other states that are phasing out the manufacture and sales of microbead products by 2020 if it passes a bill such as the one proposed by state Rep. John Sciback of Hadley.
A profitable pilot
The Third Thursday debut of an annual walk to fight breast cancer proved profitable last month. The American Cancer Society regional office in Holyoke tells County Fare the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Berkshire County on Oct. 15 had more than 300 walkers and volunteers raised more than $17,000.
For the past six years, the event was staged in various locations in the Berkshires, moving to Pittsfield last year. Organizers this year looked to capitalize on the thousands who attend Third Thursday and it paid off, bringing in money to invest in ground breaking research; provide free, comprehensive information and support to those touched by breast cancer; and help people take steps to reduce their breast cancer risk or find it early when it's most treatable.