Senator, EAI prez talk plastic, nature and freedom in Elmore

October 25, 2019 – for immediate release

For more information contact Brad Ferland at 999-2633bferland@together.net

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Link to video: https://youtu.be/0p4fWpnfSps

‘Travels with Charlie’ video series goes to Elmore to discuss plastic bag ban

October 25, 2019 – Three Elmore icons – Lake Elmore, the Elmore Store, and co-owners Warren and Kathy Miller – appear prominently in the 10th and latest episode of “Travels With Charlie,” the Vermont news and policy video series.

“The Plastic Bag Ban” opens, in mock-1950’s black-and-white B-movie fashion, as a sinister shape moves through the waters of Lake Elmore and directly towards the camera. Corny horror movie music plays as the title screams, “The Bag Creature from Lake Elmore.” The figure crawling to shore is “Travels with Charlie” host Charlie Papillo, wearing nothing but swimming goggles and a 30-gallon trash bag. When he walks into the Elmore Store, Warren raises his hand to stop him: “Didn’t you hear? They banned plastic bags!”

What follows is 10 minutes of civil, in-depth, “pro and con” discussion about Vermont’s new law restricting sale of single-use plastic items like shopping bags, straws and coffee stirrers.  Standing right there in the Elmore Store, bill sponsor Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison County) and Stowe resident Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a libertarian-leaning policy think tank, debate the benefits and pitfalls of the ban, enacted this year and set to take effect next July. The discussion highlights the ideological differences that underpin their policy disagreements. 

It’s pure “Travels with Charlie,” which began last year when director Asher Crispe of Danby and producer Brad Ferland of St. Albans concluded that civic discourse had lost its civility. They wanted to reverse the trend of ‘too much heat and not enough light’ afflicting policy conversations in Vermont and the rest of the nation. The pair found support for a video series based on the concept of “Travels with Charley,” the 1962 travelogue in which author John Steinbeck recounts traversing America in a pickup truck with a poodle named Charley, meeting people and discussing the issues of the day – segregation, religion, the generation gap. The book captured readers with its honesty, compassion and optimism, values that longtime WVMT radio show host Papillo tries to imbue in “Travels with Charlie.”

“TWC” doesn’t preach. Papillo places people who disagree in a real-world setting, asks provocative questions, and then just lets them talk. All 10 episodes can be seen on YouTube.  The Elmore School across Rte. 12 from the store appears in Episode #9, which deals with school choice and mergers. Other episodes deal with the future of Vermont agriculture (Ag Secretary Anson Tebbetts and South Barre farmer Jen Lambert), renewable energy (Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell and Rutland Mayor David Allaire), marijuana legalization, and more.

Standing next to the post office boxes in the Elmore Store, Bray explains why the Legislature decided it needed to act. “We are creating more and more plastics at really astounding rates,” he said. “Plastic are about 100 years old all-together, but in the last 15 years we have created more than half of the plastics ever created, and half of that is just packaging. Plastics has some downside as far as toxicity, and health, and recyclability.”

Roper concedes the problem of non-recylable waste. He said he has participated in Green Up Day ever since he moved to Vermont more than 20 years ago, but “this bill is government over-reach. We’re supposed to be a free society where we can make our own decisions, but if the citizens aren’t allowed to choose between paper and plastic, what are we really free to choose?”

All packaging – including paper – has environmental downsides, Roper said. Plastic bags actually use less carbon dioxide over their life-cycle than paper bags, he said. “These are choices that people should be free to make.”

Stores will still offer plastic bags, just not single-use plastic bags, Bray responded. “Vermonters use 332 million [single use] plastic bags per year,” Bray said. They already pay for them in the price of the products they hold. They’re also breathing micro-plastic particles in the air and drinking them in their water – it’s even been found in Vermont’s micro-brew beers, he said.

Papillo then gave both Bray and Roper a figurative ‘magic wand’ and asked what they would wish for.  

“I’d like to see us move to a zero-waste society,” Bray said. “Nature is a perfect recycler. Only man has the ingenuity, I guess you might call it, to create things that are a dead end. We create wastes and we’re stuck with them. Nature doesn’t know what to do with them. Plastic is one of those examples.”

Roper would ask “for people to live up to their own potential. And I think we have the roots of that in our U.S. Constitution, with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And with all respect to our Legislature, sometimes the best way for that to happen is to get out of the way, without making decisions for the people.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Ethan Allen Institute Pres. Rob Roper, Sen. Chris Bray, store owners Warren and Kathy Miller, and ‘Travels With Charlie” host Charlie Papillo meet at the Elmore Store in Elmore, where Roper and Bray discuss the state law restricting sale of single-use plastics. 

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