Telluride out-greening Aspen |

Telluride out-greening Aspen

Katie Redding
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Aspen is currently being thrashed ” and generally out-greened ” by one of its southerly neighbors.

That at least can be said on an environmental issue in which Aspen is losing to Telluride in a challenge to see which town can use the most reusable grocery bags per capita, according to Nathan Ratledge, climate coordinator for Aspen’s Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE).

Although Telluride’s population of roughly 2,500 is less than half of Aspen’s 6,000 or so residents, the small town in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains used approximately 1,000 more reusable grocery bags than Aspen in the period between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, Ratledge said.

When the numbers are broken into a per capita basis, the picture is even more grim for Aspen, which often touts its green reputation. At between two and three times the size of Telluride, Aspen must use between two and three times as many reusable bags than Telluride by Labor Day in order to win.

Fortunately for Aspen, the Aspen/Telluride Challenge is being extended through Labor Day weekend. The contest, which is aimed at promoting reusable shopping bags (and discouraging one-use plastic bags) was originally scheduled to end on the Fourth of July. However, CORE and Telluride’s Sheep Mountain Alliance (SMA) recently decided the contest was worth extending.

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In both towns, grocers have promised to donate 5 cents to a green fund for each purchase or use of a reusable bag. The fund will finance a yet-to-be-determined environmental project within each community.

The community that raises the most money, per capita, between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends wins. The loser must purchase two solar monitor sets for the winning municipality’s public school system.

Despite the challenge ahead of him, Ratledge is upbeat about the real benefits of the contest.

“The great part is we’ll have three-and-a-half months of an outreach and education program [when the contest is over],” Ratledge said.

And it isn’t as if Aspen residents are ignoring the alleged problems of one-time plastic bags. In the first three weeks of the program, City Market reported that its Aspen store has seen over 4,500 reusable bags come through the checkout, according to Ratledge. Clark’s Market did not have numbers on reusable bag use but had sold 800 bags in the program’s first three weeks.

However, Ratledge acknowledged that changing habits can be difficult. Aspen has done a great job with some large environmental projects, Ratledge said.

“But on an individual basis, as far as doing really simple things like using reusable bags, we have a little work to do,” he said. “I think a lot of people have great intentions, it’s just a matter of acting on them.”

Ratledge said he plans to gather more reusable bags ” and volunteers willing to distribute them in front of local grocery stores ” in order to raise awareness.

When this contest is over, CORE and SMA hope to take the lessons learned from this contest statewide. The two agencies plan to propose a much bigger plastic bag competition to the Colorado Association of Ski Towns.

CORE also plans to champion an ordinance in Aspen to permanently eliminate plastic bag use, according to Ratledge. An online poll asking Aspenites about possible government actions, including banning plastic bags and charging for them, is available on CORE’s website at

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