ASPEN " Two Aspen women have decided a fine way to do their bit for the environment and maybe make a little money is to become bag ladies " tote-bag entrepreneurs, to be precise.
Christine Sayre Goldstein and Alex Halperin have teamed up to form a company, named Potatote, to peddle tote bags to area merchants, individuals, lodges and any other venues or buyers that might make use of them, selling them for $5 wholesale or $10 retail.
The bags are sturdy enough to use for groceries, brown in color and printed with the image of one of five historical Aspen buildings on one side and a map showing the locations of those buildings on the other. The drawings of the buildings were done by artist Jean Rosow, of San Antonio, Texas and Aspen.
Although the tote bags are initially being made of canvas, said Goldstein, "What we went to do is introduce a whole line of bags made from potato starch resin," hence the name of the company.
But the technology is in its infancy, as researchers in the U.S. and other countries experiment with "bioplastics," or plastic products made from other materials than crude oil or petroleum byproducts.
Goldstein, whose husband is attorney Gerald Goldstein, hails from England originally, but now lives primarily in Aspen with her husband and their son, while Halperin is the publisher of Aspen Peak magazine and, with her husband, Dan Sadowsky, has raised two kids in Aspen.
Goldstein came up with the idea of the tote bags after seeing a televised news story about a British wildlife filmmaker and eco-warrior, Rebecca Hosking of Modbury, U.K. Hosking's anger at the environmental damage caused by plastic shopping bags, in the form of sea animals and birds being strangled to death by floating plastic bags and strings, resulted in the banning of the bags in her hometown.
Another source of Goldstein's inspiration was news stories about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Gyre " a massive accumulation of floating garbage, most of it plastics, fed by oceanic currents.
There actually are two such floating garbage dumps, one located between Hawaii and California, the other between Hawaii and Japan. The easternmost clump of trash has been estimated as being twice the size of Texas.
"Eventually, they will ban petroleum-based bags," predicted Goldstein. "We just want to eliminate the use of plastic bags in Aspen."
She reported out that a big grocery chain in Texas, H.E.B., uses 32 million plastic bags per week. And while City Market declined to say how many bags the corporation goes through, Goldstein wrote in an e-mail, "usually they figure between four and eight bags per customer each week.
Goldstein and Halperin got the inspiration when they were "apres skiing" at The Wine Spot one day earlier this year, and Goldstein was telling friends about Hosking and about the Gyre. Somebody suggested they should do something about the problem rather than simply being outraged.
Out of that grew their plan to combine their environmental ethic with a savvy understanding of the hunger for Aspen memorabilia. Halperin thought of imprinting the bags with historical images as a way of giving tourists a little bit of Aspen to take home with them.
"The response has been overwhelming," said Halperin, explaining that as they have made their rounds to local business they have been stopped on the street by people eager to buy the bags.
According to a list compiled by Goldstein, the bags were now available at nine different locations around Aspen as of Dec. 9, including Carl's Pharmacy, Gorsuch, The Great Divide, Pitkin County Dry Goods, Pomeroy Sports, Roots, the Sundeck, Suzies and Five Star Destination Resorts. And the two entrepreneurs were planning to hit more potential outlets in advance of Christmas.
Goldstein said the original goal was to have the bags made locally, "but it turned out to be so prohibitively expensive" they had to find a manufacturer elsewhere. The first lot, in fact, are being made in China, although they pair have talked with firms in Austria (a pioneer in potato-resin production) and Austin, Texas.
"Do you know, there's a lot of controversy over all this," said Goldstein about the environmental benefits of reusable cloth bags versus plastic or paper, as well as the value of small, local efforts in affecting a worldwide problem.
"It won't stop global warming," she continued. "But it's all about education ... trying to teach my teenager to use less of everything. I think you can only do what's in your heart."