Vail ends free plastic grocery bags

Plastic grocery bags a no-no in Vail

Grocery shoppers had been getting 4 million per year

VAIL, Colo. – Single-use plastic bags are no longer available at Vail’s two big grocery stores. As of Aug. 1, customers can get only  paper bags, and then at a cost of 10 cents a bag.

The law intends to nudge shoppers into taking their own bags to stuff in the lettuce and cantaloupe and, since this is Vail, sushi and other exotic items. Small bags for apples, bulk items and so forth will still be allowed.

The town is calling it the Kick the Bag Habit program. Stores can keep 20 percent of the money collected in bag sales for their costs. The rest will go to a town program that provides bags to visitors and residents.

The two grocery stores in town have been giving out an estimated 4 million  bags a year. This compares with 3 million bags at Breckenridge and close to 20 million bags at Boulder.

Communities and countries across the world have been cracking down on the proliferating plastic bags. The bags can be recycled, but a report for Los Angeles city government estimated that only an estimated 5 percent of plastic bags in California and across the United States are recycled.

From 2003 through 2007, the United States consumed roughly 400 billion single-use plastic carryout bags, according to a report given elected officials in Vail.

San Francisco outlawed plastic bags in 2007, Portland, Ore., in 2011, and Austin, Texas, in 2013. This month, single-use bags became illegal in all of Hawaii.

Telluride was first among ski and mountain towns of the West, banning plastic altogether and adopting a fee on paper bags. Aspen and Carbondale, which are located 30 miles apart, followed in 2011.

Breckenridge took a different approach, levying a 10-cent fee on all bags at all stores.

Whistler has been working with grocery retailers in a six-month program in which the stores voluntarily charge consumers 5 cents per bags.

Vail chose to emulate its rival, Aspen, and by extension, Telluride, but at a lower cost: 10 cents for paper bags, instead of 20 cents.

Some mountain towns have adopted bans but faced pushback from consumers. Basalt voters, located near Aspen, overturned the council ban on plastics, and so did those in Durango.

Mark Hoblitzell, a municipal staffer in Vail who did most of the homework required of elected officials, said the decision by the council in March has been fairly well received. He said that of every 10 people he has talked with, eight have been supportive. The other two were quite upset.

Vail intends to next move into a program that eases other retail merchants out of the bag habit, but it first has to implement the existing ban.

Whistler looking to emulate Vancouver with mandatory composting & recycling 

WHISTLER, B.C. – British Columbia makes little land available for landfills. Whistler, for example, ships its refuse by truck to Vancouver, where it is put on railroad cars for shipment to a landfill along the Columbia River.

This creates a direct economic incentive to composte and recycle. Whistler last year had a waste diversion rate of 54 percent—which would match the highest rate in Colorado, for example, Loveland, which is not a ski town.

But studies in Whistler find that a great amount of items that can be composted or recycled are still being shipped south to the U.S. border and across most of the state of Washington to be buried. Officials estimate that 41 percent of Whistler’s garbage could be diverted to a local composting facility and another 40 percent could be recycled.

With that in mind, Whistler is now looking to follow Vancouver, San Francisco, and other major municipalities along the West Coast by banning organic materials and recyclables from the trash stream.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden says current efforts have failed to divert significant amounts of waste from commercial operations and multi-family housing that can be either composted or otherwise recycled. Bins for both would be provided. And failing to use the bins could provoke fines. Just how guilty parties will be detected has yet to be determined.

This, said Wilhelm-Morden, will reduce the amount of waste that is going to the landfill, which is a good thing and long overdue.”

One advantage of more waste diversion is that it will save the municipality $92,000 a year. Whistler is also tinkering with how to pass along those cost savings to customers.



About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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