Watertown Resident Expands Efforts to Curtail Use of Plastics

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Joshua Touster Watertown’s Eileen Ryan, founder of Beyond Plastics Greater Boston, advocated for legislation to limit plastic in front of the State House.

Several years ago, Watertown’s Eileen Ryan pushed for Watertown to pass a plastic shopping bag ban, and now she has expanded her efforts statewide.

In April, she founded Beyond Plastics Greater Boston, a local chapter of the national group Beyond Plastic.

“After we passed the ban (in 2016) we all patted ourselves on the back and thought we did a great job. We really noticed that there are fewer plastic bags in the river, in trees around Watertown,” Ryan said. “But in the fall of 2020 I saw a movie called The Story of Plastic and afterward I went to a discussion about it. I learned half of all plastic produced has been produced in the last 15 years and I was like, ‘Whoa, I have got to do something about that!'”

In July, the group went into Boston to advocate for passage of legislation to limit the use of plastic and encourage recycling.

Beyond Plastics Greater Boston has been pushing state legislators to expand the bottle bill in Massachusetts, in which people now pay a 5 cent deposit on carbonated beverage bottles.

“What the expanded bottle bill will do is increase the return deposit to a dime and it will cover all beverage containers, except milk and formula,” Ryan said.

Similar bills have led to higher rates of recycling in other states and countries, Ryan said, and it will also keep more heavy, glass bottles out recycling bins and prevent cross-contamination from containers for hazardous substances, such as bleach.

Joshua Touster The “Death by Plastic” demonstration by Beyond Plastics Greater Boston in front of South Station.

Many communities in Massachusetts have plastic bag bans, including Watertown, but the group wants a statewide ban.

“Now we have 150 cities and towns in Massachusetts that have different plastic bag bans,” Ryan said. “We would like to see one statewide ban, so they are uniform and everyone knows what the regulations are.”

The third bill that the group has advocated for is for plastic EPR.

“That stands for extended producer responsibility, and that puts the onus for the waste of the product back on the producer,” Ryan said.  

As part of the “action” on July 20, Beyond Plastics Greater Boston had a rally outside the State House, with speakers. Then they went to the corporate headquarters of Trader Joe’s in downtown Boston with bags filled with plastics with Trader Joe labeling and left them along with a letter to the CEO.

Finally, they had a performance art demonstration outside South Station called “Death by Plastic,” in which a man got inside a clear coffin and was buried with plastic bottles and containers. The performance was led by artist and activist Anne-Katrin Spiess, who did a similar demonstration in New York City last year.

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