Single-use, many views in Breckenridge
Ryan Summerlin November 27, 2012
Supporters are calling it a meaningful and necessary commitment to sustainability. Opponents condemn it as government overreach.
But on both sides of the issue, a proposal to ban or impose fees on single-use bags in Breckenridge is eliciting strong opinions from members of the community.
More than 30 people, both for and against the bag ban, turned out for a public open house at the Breckenridge Recreation Center Monday night for a heated discussion that raised issues from visitors’ response to marketing opportunities for the town in the form of reusable bags.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Barbara Gibbs. “It’s time we did it.”
But others said the local government would be over-stepping its bounds with the measure, while inconveniencing locals and putting off visitors.
“It’s a hard thing for me to swallow,” said Breckenridge business owner Thos McDonald. “I just don’t feel like right now in this town, in this community this is something we need to be focusing on.”
The offer on the table is a plan that would strategically reduce bag use in Breckenridge over time, starting with a full ban of plastic bags at high-volume grocery stores – notably City Market – and a fee on paper bags.
“The revenues from that fee would go back, partly to the grocer for the administration of that program,” Breckenridge assistant director of community development Mark Truckey said. “But also into an educational marketing and bag-reduction benchmarks for smaller retailers.”
The plan calls for bag-reduction benchmarks for smaller retailers and a communitywide education and marketing campaign as well.
Large grocers and liquor stores generate approximately 60 percent of the more than 3 million bags used in Breckenridge each year, according to rough estimates in a memo from town staffers. City Market did not provide the town data on bag usage.
But some residents at Monday’s open house railed against the idea of “picking on” Breckenridge’s only large-scale grocer. Others called the proposed fee a “sin tax.”
Many were concerned with the possible impacts to Breckenridge’s tourism-based economy, with many visitors from places where recycling and conservationism are not the norm.
“Being a tourist-based community, people are coming into town and they’re not prepared with (reusable) grocery bags,” McDonald said. “It’s not my job to educate these people. We do our best, and it’s up to the individual if they want to come in with their grocery bags and use those.”
Among the proponents who spoke in favor of a bag ban was 7-year-old Russell Laszlo, an Upper Blue Elementary first-grader and leader of the school’s green team, Kids in Action, who stood on his chair at Monday’s open house to advocate for the bag ban before the room full of grown ups.
“When people buy them, they really only use them one time,” Russell said of plastic bags. “And then they blow into the leaves in nature and into the sea, and it kills animals.”
Neighboring communities, including Aspen and Carbondale, states such as Hawaii and whole countries in Europe have already implemented bag-reduction policies. Breckenridge staffers said their research indicated visitors’ reactions to bag bans in other municipalities has been largely positive.
The Breckenridge Town Council aims to make a policy decision on the plastic bag issue by the end of the year.