Governor Lauds Brewster-based Sustainable Practices

by Rich Eldred
Madhavi Venkatesan, founder of Sustainable Practices. COURTESY PHOTO Madhavi Venkatesan, founder of Sustainable Practices. COURTESY PHOTO

BREWSTER – Governor Maura Healy ushered in 2024 by honoring an environmental group founded in Brewster.

“I am pleased to confer upon you this Governor’s Citation in recognition of your steadfast and noble efforts to successfully advocate and implement a municipal plastic bottle ban across all 15 towns on Cape Cod,” Healy said of Sustainable Practices, “and your continued commitment to push for a retail single-use plastic water bottle ban and single-use plastic takeout container ban throughout the Cape and the Commonwealth.”

Sustainable Practices was founded in 2016 by Brewster resident and Northeastern University Associate Professor of Economics Madhavi Venkatesan, originally to promote a film series at Chatham’s Orpheum Theater and to launch a series of local petitions restricting town purchases of single-use plastic bottled beverages. To date a municipal plastic bottle ban is on the books in some manner in all 15 Cape towns; nine towns have restricted the commercial sale of single-use plastic water bottles and two towns (Harwich and Yarmouth) have eliminated plastic take out items such as forks, knives and containers.

Venkatesan first became locally involved as a member of the Brewster Finance Committee and was inspired to advocate for a ban on plastic items believing that recycling was an incomplete solution and nearly all plastic eventually winds up in the environment. She recruited volunteers for Sustainable Practices from every town to file petitions and work to pass them at town meetings.

“Our members have worked together as a team since 2019 to support filings and public presentations across the Cape,” Venkatesan said in a statement. “We have drawn attention to the single-use plastic issue but there remains much work ahead. Plastic is perhaps the most visible example of the human footprint on the planet, and elimination of single-use plastic is an opportunity to make a significant impact if all towns work in unison.”

Her goal was always to have each town pass a local bottle ban.

“Every town on the Cape now has a bylaw,” she said in a phone interview. “Petroleum-based plastic production contributes to greenhouse gasses. Bioplastics contribute less but have other environmental impacts related to water and chemical use in growing the bio component. Chemicals from the plastic leach into food and even bioplastic releases synthetic estrogen. That is an important aspect that is not taken into consideration.”

As SP’s executive director, Venkatesan now emphasizes health even more than plastic’s effect on climate.

“This is a public health issue, not a disposal issue. It’s an environmental climate issue (too),” she said. “The fattier the food the more plastic leachate is absorbed into the food. The chemicals leaching out of the plastic are tied to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), endocrine disruption, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease and obesity.”

She remains a Brewster resident and would love to see the validation and recognition from the state spur more residents of every town to act locally and push for single-use cutlery limits. Several proposed bans were tabled in local towns this year, including Brewster.

“This is such an amazing opportunity to stimulate cooperation between the towns to show that change can happen and all change happens locally,” Venkatesan said. “I hope the state action recognizing our activities promotes people’s involvement. The next course of action is to continue what we’re doing.”

She is now working with off Cape communities such as Arlington, Plymouth and Hingham and Block Island in Rhode Island that were inspired to follow Sustainable Practices example. This September Healy signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from purchasing single-use plastic bottles, a rule mimicking that first proposed by Sustainable Practices.

“We’re very optimistic about continued involvement and facilitation with other communities. We’ll work with them and the state because the state has much further reach,” Venkatesan said.

Her New year’s resolution is to build relationships with other local environmental organizations on Cape Cod and to collaborate with local town governments in promoting the plastic reduction initiative and commercial water bottle ban.

Sustainable Practices has a website with more information and they'd welcome more help.

“We are always open to volunteers and donations of time,” Venkatesan said. “There are a lot of different types of volunteers. At Sustainable Practices we approach being a volunteer like a job that’s paid, but we don’t get paid. We’re looking for people that are committed to the cause. We’ve been working on this since 2019 and made a significant impact. It’s a testimonial to local action that can have a global impact.”