Town Council debates ways to reduce plastic bag usage
By Jenney Coberly
BRECKENRIDGE — Think globally, act locally is a well-worn environmental mantra, and this week, Breckenridge Town Council members considered how their town might be able to address its part in the worldwide scourge of plastic shopping bags.
Some 500 billion are produced annually and many of them end up drifting around in lakes and rivers, getting stuck in trees and being eaten by animals. The ones that do make it to the landfill break down into tiny toxic particles that linger in the environment for many years.
Some environmental groups estimate that the bags, and other plastic garbage, may kill up to 1 million sea creatures each year, and in some areas of the ocean, degraded plastic outweighs biomass by six to one, according to a report from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.
Some council members were determined to tackle the issue head-on during the recent retreat.
“I believe that we need to take strong action on this, that we should be on the leading edge,” said council member Jennifer McAtamney. “If we do it over time, we have an opportunity to educate the people in our community and get them on board, and see why this is such a big deal,” she added.
Other council members were concerned that eliminating the bags would inconvenience guests.
“I think we need to encourage and incentivize. Let’s try to make it easy for the lodging communities and the people who come here,” said Mark Burke.
“We have reusable bags for our guests at our places, and maybe that’s a good first step … engage the lodging community, make it be more of a community acting together rather than us saying you can’t have plastic bags,” Mike Dudick said.
Council member Peter Joyce said, “I would love to see some voluntary program work. I’m not really ready to create an ordinance for this.”
Breckenridge has lots of shoppers who have flown into Colorado and thus don’t have cloth bags with them even if they do use them at home, said council member Eric Mamula.
“There’s no way I’m going to tell a customer who just spent 40 bucks on food that they owe me a nickel for a bag,” he said.
The council also discussed ways to get more reusable bags in the hands of local businesses and out-of-town guests. McAtamney said when she was in Hawaii last year, the condos and hotels had bags for the use of tourists. “I feel like if somewhere like that which is really tourist-oriented could make that leap, we could make that leap also,” she said.
“What if we figured out some way to parlay the multi-use bags into some kind of advertising vehicle …. provide them to the shops, some sort of keepsake with a logo,” council member Jeffrey Bergeron suggested.
At the end of the discussion, the council seemed to lean toward a voluntary, incentive-based approach, combined with education, as their chosen path.
“It sounds to me like this group is more for a voluntary program than a mandatory lightning bolt out of the sky,” said Mayor John Warner. “I’d like to have a phased approach to this. We need to work with the merchant’s association, the restaurant association and the lodging community to see if we can get multifaceted support for some program that decreases the use of disposable bags.”
What are other communities around the country doing regarding plastic bag usage? Get the latest at http://plasticbagbanreport.com.
The most recent action was in Santa Clara County in California, where the town passed a sweeping ban on April 26, 2011.
Telluride also passed a ban which took effect earlier this year. There is some question as to whether a Colorado statute prohibits municipalities from passing such bans, but the Telluride ordinance has not yet been challenged so the case law is unclear.
Conspiracy theorists might nod sagely and note that the Colorado statute was passed in the mid 1980s, right around the time plastic bags usage was skyrocketing, perhaps a prescient act on the part of the plastic manufacturers.
Regarding the Colorado statute, Mayor John Warner said, “If we do this, I’d like it to stick as opposed to be being held up”, referring to possible legal challenges to the ban option. Therefore, most of the debate centered around bag fees or voluntary programs.
Listen to an audio transcript of the 30-minute debate:
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