ASPEN " Aspen resident Linda Girvin on Sunday arrived at City Market in Aspen on a bike, carrying her own bags.
"Plastic bags are a pet peeve of mine," she said, pointing out that many stores in European countries charge people for plastic bags in order to discourage their use.
Aspenite Mary Ryerson was apologetic as she exited the grocery store with a cart full of plastic bags " she'd forgotten her cloth ones. She does re-use the plastic bags to pick up after her dog, she said.
In two 15-minute spans, approximately 25 percent of Aspen City Market patrons used their own cloth bags Sunday afternoon. About 10 percent of Clark's Market patrons did.
Both stores have signs reminding shoppers to use reusable bags, and both sell such bags for 99 cents. City Market employees had mixed opinions about how well Aspenites had responded to such reminders. While Aida Mejia said she sees more people using their own bags these days, Marleny Koch said some people do, but "not many."
But starting this weekend, a plastic bag contest aims to up those numbers. Sponsored by the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) in Aspen and Sheep Mountain Alliance (SMA) in Telluride, the contest pits the two towns against each other. But it pits everyone against the plastic bag.
In both towns, grocers have promised to donate 5 cents to a green fund for each purchase or use of a reusable bag. The fund will finance a yet-to-be-determined environmental project within each community. The community that raises the most money, per capita, between Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July wins.
The loser must purchase two solar monitor sets for the winning municipality's public school system.
"Seriously, I think we can make a good start on bag blight with this project," said Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland.
Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser thought locals would buy into the friendly competition between the two towns " "both touted as green mountain communities."
According to Nathan Ratledge, of CORE, the contest could be just the beginning.
His office plans to bring an ordinance before the Aspen City Council that would either require grocers to charge for non-reusable bags or ban them outright. CORE is currently deciding which strategy would be more effective, but Ratledge said either ordinance would be the first of its kind in a major municipality.
"If Aspen can't do it, no one can," he said.
Although San Francisco banned plastic bags in March 2007, it continues to allow grocery stores to give away recycled paper bags or bags made from a plastic that can be industrially recycled.
The average American uses roughly 334 plastic bags a year, according to CORE. Thus, if Aspen's 6,000 year-round residents stopped using plastic bags, about 2 million bags a year would cease to enter the market.
On Sunday, several Aspen residents worried that Aspen's tourists would have trouble adapting to a world without plastic bags.
"I don't see how this could work in Aspen, because not everyone is from here," said Tige Eads, who was shopping at City Market.
Ratledge said the Aspen City Council has expressed the same concerns. So he plans to work with Aspen's hotels to provide reusable bags in the rooms. He said he hopes to have the bags in at least a quarter of Aspen's rooms by next winter.
Ratledge is working with Aspen High School students to design the bags. Tourists will be able to borrow the bags or buy them for less than $5 a piece, Ratlege said.
Though Telluride's government has considered a ban on plastic bags, it is currently experiencing virtually 100 percent voluntary participation, Fraser said. The mayor plans to revisit the idea of a ban after the contest.