WELLFLEET — You will no longer find your favorite soft drinks or seltzer waters in single-serving plastic bottles on the shelves of Wellfleet’s markets and take-out windows.
That’s because a plastic bottle ban that went into effect earlier this month made Wellfleet the first town on the Cape to prohibit the commercial sale or distribution of nonalcoholic carbonated drinks in plastic bottles under 21 ounces.
There have been other initiatives to reduce the sale of plastic containers across the Cape, including several promoted by the environmental group Sustainable Practices. But this ban was homegrown, penned by the Wellfleet Recycling Committee.
The idea to broaden the town’s bylaw beyond the ban on the sale of single-serving plastic bottles containing noncarbonated water started with the select board. Chair Ryan Curley said that he drafted the proposal because there had been some concern among voters that limiting the ban to still water might result in people reaching for less healthy beverages.
“It kind of pushes people toward more sugary drinks,” said Curley.
He turned his proposal over to the recycling committee for its consideration.
The business community, where there is generally some pushback on rules of this kind, has been quiet on the change. “No business spoke against it beforehand or at the town meeting,” Curley said. And he hasn’t heard anything since, either.
The bylaw easily passed at last September’s special town meeting on a voice vote.
Christine Shreves, the recycling committee’s co-chair, said local residents are aware of the need to eliminate plastics. “We see it in our wildlife and on our shores, so it’s not a hard sell,” she said.
“I don’t think businesses are thrilled with any kind of regulations that affect how they can sell products,” Shreves said. “But I feel in Wellfleet, generally speaking, businesses are accepting of our attempts to reduce plastics.”
Business establishments didn’t get much of a reminder prior to the ban’s start date of May 1, however. Kathy MacNutt at the Box Lunch still had plastic bottles of single-serving soft drinks in the cooler last week.
All the businesses were sent flyers, Shreves said, but there had been “considerable delay in getting the word out.” Far more community education was done before the the ban on noncarbonated water in plastic bottles. That time, she said, outreach to local businesses had been provided by the health agent. But Wellfleet Health Agent Hillary Greenberg-Lemos recently took a job in Eastham and wasn’t available to help with outreach.
Shreves said her committee was ready with materials, but they weren’t distributed until the week before the ban. “We kept talking about how we needed to go door-to-door to businesses,” she said, “but being a volunteer organization, we just couldn’t make it happen.”
Bob Medeiros, the manager at Wellfleet Marketplace, said the store has been working on switching to alternatives since January. “It limits item selection,” Medeiros said. “Coke and Pepsi aren’t going to change their packaging for Wellfleet.” The change also increases costs, he said.
Mac Hay, whose restaurants and markets include two in Wellfleet, said his company has already been moving away from single-use plastics. It can be challenging, Hay said. “There is a balance in doing this, because of the increased cost that can only be absorbed to a certain point,” he said.
Sarah Robin, manager at the Flying Fish Cafe, doesn’t feel the new ban will be a hardship. “The quicker we get rid of plastic the better,” she said. “Wherever I can cut out plastic, I do.”
Clint Richmond, a member of the Mass. Sierra Club’s executive committee, commended Wellfleet in an email, saying the town has been a frontrunner in the fight against plastics since it instituted a plastic bag ban in 2015.
“Massachusetts has been a national leader on restricting plastic beverage containers since Concord’s plastic bottled water ban in 2012,” wrote Richmond in an email.
Wellfleet follows Martha’s Vineyard on restricting beverages other than water sold in these bottles. All six towns on the Vineyard have adopted bans on the sale of noncarbonated, unflavored water and soft drinks in plastic bottles of less than 34 ounces. The bans were a result of an initiative by West Tisbury students called Plastic Free MV.
Nantucket, where there are bans on a long list of single-use plastic items, has yet to institute a ban on the sale of carbonated drinks in plastic bottles.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article, published in print on May 18, misidentified the recently resigned Wellfleet health agent. It is Hillary Greenberg-Lemos, not Emily Beebe.