VAIL, Colorado - As Vail officials start serious discussions about imposing mandatory recycling regulations in town, the idea of legislation regarding plastic shopping bags is likely to become part of the debate.
Plastic bags are seen by many environmentalists as a big problem.
"If you look at the fences at the county landfill, they're lined with plastic bags," Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability Waste and Energy Program Coordinator John-Ryan Lockman said.
Beyond littering roadways and blowing around the landfill like jellyfish with store logos, the bags also create problems for recyclers. When people bag their recyclable items and drop them into bins, those bags have to be removed by hand before material can be fed into the county's large recycling machine at the landfill. Landfill manager Ken Whitehead wrote in an email that de-bagging recyclables cuts the efficiency of the recycling operation.
Even the bags left at the recycling center can make mess.
"We have a 55-gallon drum at the recycling center that fills up almost every day," Vail Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Kristen Bertuglia said.
So what can be done?
Aspen has banned plastic shopping bags in grocery stores. People either have to bring their own reusable bags or pay 20 cents each for paper bags.
Breckenridge officials are set to create a bag regulation that would charge customers 10 cents per bag for either paper or plastic.
Vail Town Council member Susie Tjossem said she and other town officials pay attention to what other resort towns do, especially since Vail likes to portray itself as an industry leader.
"You don't necessarily have to be first," Tjossem said. "But in the high country, environmental sensitivity has to be at the forefront."
That said, Tjossem said any effort to cut down on plastic bag use in Vail will have to be carefully thought out, particularly whether any regulations would apply to just grocery bags or all plastic shopping bags. If it's all bags, the town would have to consider businesses that have paid a lot of money for heavy-plastic bags with store logos printed on them.
"That would need a major phasing-in period," Tjossem said.
Council member Greg Moffet said the council talked about bags about 18 months ago, but the discussion never really gained much traction.
In a voice message, Moffet said if the town is going to consider some sort of bag regulation, "It has to balance that with the convenience of customers."
On the other hand, Moffet said he was recently on vacation in an area that had banned plastic bags, and it didn't seem to present any problems for either merchants or customers.
"I think it's becoming more widely accepted," he said.
And Lockman and Bertuglia said there seems to be some public opinion forming to regulate the bags. Both cited a recent film, "Bag It," that has had people talking after recent showings in the valley.
"If you want plastic bags to go away, it needs to come from the community," Bertuglia said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.