Manchester students rally against single-use plastic bags

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MANCHESTER — The single-use plastic bag debate in Manchester isn't over — not as far as a determined and energetic group of elementary school students is concerned.

The students, among those who appeared at last week's Manchester Select Board meeting to advocate for a local ban on single-use plastic bags as an environmental hazard, took their cause to the streets of Manchester on Sunday,

staging a rally at the roundabout at Main and Depot streets.

The girls jumped up and down as they chanted their support for a ban. "We won't wait for the state, no more plastic bags!" and "do something drastic, cut the plastic!" they shouted at the top of their voices, and cheered when cars passing honked their horns in support.

Harper Wilson, a fifth-grader at Manchester Elementary Middle School, had emailed a number of her classmates and friends on Saturday night about continuing to lobby for a ban. She and her friends assembled ahead of time to make signs, and then took their place along the roundabout shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Those friends included her younger sister Tamsin Wilson, and MEMS classmates Eliza Dopkins, Ella Cocheo, Melissa King, Sadoe White, Gabriella Garay and Stella Mathrese. Her grandparents, BRSU superintendent Jacquelyne Wilson and former state Rep. Jeff Wilson, also looked on.

Last week, the Select Board, while appreciative of the students' research and willingness to speak up, passed a resolution calling for a ban on thin-film single use plastic bags. That resolution was sent to the clerks of the state House and Senate, to Gov. Phil Scott's administration, and to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The initiative started last month with an ordinance proposed by local environmental advocacy group Earth Matters.

Select Board members, while impressed with the turnout by students and adults, said they were concerned about the unintended consequences of passing such ordinance and going it alone, as well as the unanswered questions about how the ban would work and how it would be enforced.

Harper's parents, Jon and Amy Wilson, said their daughter took on this cause on her own. "She literally told her friends we need to keep bugging the Select Board," Amy Wilson said.

"Harper didn't think [a resolution] went far enough," Amy Wilson said. "She also wanted to convey that this isn't merely a classroom assignment — this is something they're serious about. I think the more research they did at school, this really grew on them. this is something they can do locally."

Asked about her reasoning, Harper Wilson said, "The Legislature may not say yes [to a bag ban] and I don't want to take chances. So I think we should start off by banning plastic bags in Manchester and then do it in the State of Vermont. "

Advocates for a ban say plastic bags are difficult to recycle, don't biodegrade, break down into microplastics that wind their way into the food chain, and harm wildlife and marine life. They point to the success that communities including Brattleboro and several towns in the Berkshires of Massachusetts have had with similar bans, and say area many area businesses are ready to get on board.

In the meantime, Harper Wilson and her young friends are keen to remain involved in the process.

"I feel pretty proud of myself and I feel like we're going to make a difference," she said. "And I think my friends feel proud of themselves."

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