Dillon Valley Elementary students spur plastic bag fee conversations

Satori Adnan (10), Miguel Castillo (11) and Vasilya Nosirova (11) pose with their petition inside the library at Dillon Valley Elementary School.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

Students at Dillon Valley Elementary School are hoping to show the community that big ideas can come from little kids.

Fifth graders Vasilya Nosirova, Miguel Castillo and Satori Adnan gave a presentation for the Dillon Town Council at their regular meeting last Tuesday, hoping to push town officials to consider a plastic grocery bag fee. Town representatives are optimistic that policy can be created to combat environmental concerns surrounding plastic bags, and the students could make all the difference.

“A lot of changes to environmental policy really resonate when kids are leading the charge,” said Tom Acre, Dillon’s town manager. “It’s their world they’re trying to protect, instead of leaving it to us to do it for them. It’s great they want to get involved, and this could go a lot further if the community knows the younger generation is concerned.”

The students began the effort as part of their Exhibition project — student-led experiences wherein fifth graders choose a topic, conduct in-depth research and propose possible actions. The projects culminate in presentations in front of other students and community members. The plastic bag group will be presenting this Thursday, with Acre in the audience.

The students said that their interest in the topic emerged from a natural fascination with wildlife and the environment, and the group soon learned how detrimental plastic bags could be on the ecosystem and what other entities were doing to combat the issue.

“We were reading articles and we noticed that there were a lot of animals that were getting hurt like whales, turtles and polar bears,” said Nosirova. “We wanted to do something with that, and we thought plastic bags were the perfect thing. I think if we put a fee on plastic grocery bags it would be great for the environment and it will help out a little bit.”

“We learned that they found a whale that had 88 pounds of plastic inside of him,” added Castillo. “There’s already a lot of animals dying from hunting and stuff, and now they’re dying from pollution.”

As part of the project, the students met with Dillon Mayor Carolyn Skowyra to discuss potential actions related to the issue. She recommended a petition in support of their proposal, on which the kids were able to gather more than 200 student signatures.

“We thought that doing the petition would probably help in trying to lower plastic bag use in Dillon, so we decided to do it,” said Adnan. “We went around the school to almost every single classroom asking kids to sign it … everyone was really supportive.”

The kids’ proposal essentially calls for a small fee for plastic bags at grocery stores, similar to the 10-cent fee adopted by Breckenridge back in April 2013.

Acre said that this isn’t the first time a plastic bag fee has been proposed to the town, though. Former Councilman Tim Westerberg broached the subject with the council before his exit last year, though the idea has sat stagnant ever since, despite some interest from council members.

The students’ proposal and petition has seemingly lit a small fire under town staff, and Acre said the town would begin efforts to put together an ordinance on the issue.

“My thought is we’ll get adults and the kids together and map out the strategy moving forward, and start putting boots on the ground to make it happen,” said Acre. “We don’t have to recreate the wheel. We can borrow from other communities, and learn what was successful and what wasn’t.”

While the idea is still in its relative infancy, the kids have forced some positive momentum behind the prospect. Acre said that the town is hoping to start a community work group — composed of the kids and other interested adults — to help communicate the proposal to the business community and give feedback to staff on what a potential ordinance would contain.

“This aligns nicely with the climate action plan we’ve adopted, and it’s something really tangible we can do to make a difference,” said Kerstin Anderson, marketing and communications director for Dillon. “There’s always been other priorities at the forefront. But now with this group, it allows us to move forward with some momentum.”

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