Think outside the bag
October 3, 2011
Editor’s note: The following letter was originally sent to Aspen City Council.
I want to congratulate you on making everyone in town aware of the problem with one-use plastic bags. I see more and more locals taking reusable bags to the markets. It might be interesting checking with them to see if usage of plastic bags has gone down this summer or especially this offseason. However, “one-use” is something of a misnomer since when I inquire of locals almost all of them tell me that they use their bags over and over: litter from kitchen, dogs, cats, packing, wrapping stuff in the fridge, transporting items, the list goes on and on.
Statistics say that very few bags are recycled. I disagree, most bags are recycled at home until they end up well worn in the trash. If we didn’t have these bags most people would need to buy commercial and far less biodegradable bags to serve the same needs. They would still end up in the landfill and be there longer. I also doubt many Aspen bags end up swirling around in the Pacific. But let’s do what we can in a positive way to encourage more multiple use: a contest to come up with the most innovative use (not R-rated), or the most uses or a prize for whoever returns the most bags to be recycled. This is the “carrot” approach to getting the word out.
The other problem is the tourists. Again, I would prefer a “carrot” approach. Let’s get the lodges, hotels and condos involved. No one is going to arrive in Aspen with recyclable bags in their luggage. Let’s make it easy, put a sign in every hotel room, lodge and condo explaining the problem and enlisting their help. I would love to have a courtesy bag in each room – surely they can’t add much to the room rate or at least invite the guest to pick up a free or modestly priced bag at the front desk before they go out shopping. Let’s have a contest to design signs and posters to explain our project.
These are some of the things we can do here without having to create heavy-handed government regulations and an accounting nightmare for markets.
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Most important, let’s use the clout and publicity of the Aspen name to insist that grocery stores demand of their suppliers better, more degradable bags. They have them in other places. There will always be a need for carry-out bags from markets and stores so let’s find the right kind. Ones that will be better for us and for the markets and for the world.
The city says they’ve tried everything and it’s failed and therefore they have to impose the 20-cent bag fee. I say we’ve only just begun. Let’s show how forward-thinking and innovative Aspen can be. Let’s make the locals and tourists proud to be part of the program instead of mad and frustrated.
Also, we could still do a better job of recycling cans and bottles and please leave the leaf collection bin at the recycle center all summer and how about a fall street pickup of leaves? That would save lots of trips to the dump.