VAIL — When the city of Aspen banned plastic grocery store bags a little more than a year ago, the city’s environmental manager didn’t see a level of opposition anywhere close to what she expected.
Ashley Perl, a senior environmental health specialist for the city of Aspen, told the Vail Town Council Tuesday afternoon that the experience Aspen had, while not perfect, has worked out well for the city. Plastic grocery bags are no longer available in stores, and shoppers must pay 20 cents per paper bag.
Aspen took its ban on plastic so seriously that it went so far as to supply the city with reusable shopping bags, free of charge. Perl said the reusable bags are available at the airport, at the car rental center, hotels and visitors centers. Local residents can find so-called “bag banks” at public places like the recreation center and the library where they can drop off excess reusable bags for others to pick up.
And while Aspen’s transition has been relatively smooth, Perl warned of speed bumps such as negative feedback from paper bag companies and plastic bag lobbyists in Washington, as well as emotional responses from local residents who felt attached to their plastic bags and felt they were being good stewards by reusing those bags for things like cleaning up after their dogs or lining garbage bins with them at home.
Those who added their plastic grocery bags to their recycling also didn’t always see the benefit of a ban, but Perl said community outreach and education paved the way for a more universal acceptance of the law.
Recycling plastic bags, for example, comes at a large cost, she said, adding that Aspen’s recycling facility is the same facility Eagle County uses near Wolcott. The bags can often clog up recycling and the facility’s distance from the city of Aspen means there are other financial and environmental costs.
“Recycling isn’t the end all, be all,” Perl said.
Whether a similar ban in the town of Vail would work out as it has in Aspen is a question council members are asking. The council asked Kristen Bertuglia, Vail’s environmental sustainability coordinator, to take the next steps toward eventually banning or charging for bags in Vail.
Before drafting an ordinance, members agreed that outreach should be done in order to get community feedback. Perl learned in Aspen that outreach was key to the program’s success, and doing it early on is critical, she said.
“We drafted an ordinance too early and a lot of red flags went up,” she said, adding that Vail should work to figure out which kind of ordinance would work best within the community.
Town Manager Stan Zemler said the town staff would draft a survey to then bring back to the council. Councilwoman Kerry Donovan said an ordinance can be successful if it comes from the community. It empowers the public to make the decision and leaves it to the town to implement, she said.
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