Crawford: Eagle Town Council leaving legacy of trash by failing to enact plastic bag ban (column)
In 1966, New York City was engulfed by extreme smog for three days. Carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide rose to lethal levels, and 167 people died. Immediately after, New York City updated its air pollution laws. In response, the Clean Air Act was passed.
The passing of this legislation led changes in emission standards and the removal of lead from gasoline. But most importantly, it enabled every American citizen to consider it a right to breathe clean air, rather than a privilege. The Clean Air Act led to the passage of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and Toxic Substances Control Act. The passage of these laws follows the linear progression of local issues forcing local government to enact legislation that eventually leads to tangible improvements.
The next generation of environmental issues is not as clear-cut as cleaning the air and water. It requires every citizen and consumer to wonder where their products come from, what they are made of, how they affect the environment and where our trash goes.
By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Ninety percent of seabirds have ingested plastic, up from 29 percent between 1969 and 2012. This year, a whale washed up on the shores of Thailand with 18 pounds of plastic in its stomach, a total of 80 plastic bags.
On land, chlorinated plastic in contact with soil releases chemicals that make it almost impossible for plants to grow. It pollutes drinking water.
All of these statistics and facts are easy to ignore when you live in a mountain community, far from the ocean. But landfills are not effective at disposing of plastic bags. They are lifted into the air, and they travel downstream in our rivers. Eighty percent of all plastic in the ocean originated on land; Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year — billion, with a B. And, most disturbing of all, plastic is immortal; it degrades so slowly it will still be here in 500 years.
Faced with a tidal wave of plastic pollution and a trend of mountain town bans, the Eagle Town Council failed to act in partnership with our environment and ban single-use plastic bags. Even the company Kroger has pledged to end the use of plastic bags by 2025. But what about the intervening seven years? (The pledge to eliminate bags in the first place was because towns pushed them to do so through bans on plastic bags.)
The average American family (3.4 people) takes home around 1,500 plastic bags a year. Over the next seven years, assuming these rates remain constant and assuming Eagle’s population, 6,739, will remain the same, 20,759,500 plastic bags will be taken out of the Eagle City Market.
Given that some people bring their own bags, I’ll subtract 10 million bags. That does not include any gas station, restaurant or store in Eagle. The amount of petroleum used to produce these bags is also extremely high; 14 plastic bags could drive your car a mile. Those 10 million plastic bags could drive us 1,486,544 miles. To put that in perspective, you could drive around the Earth 59 times on the oil being used to create the plastic bags for the Eagle City Market. Our small town can have a large impact.
In an era where the current administration is denying climate change, it falls to the states and local government. When the federal government pulled out of the Paris Climate agreement, the only country to do so, Colorado and other states pledged to uphold it. The private sector does not have a great track record of protecting the environment. That’s why we needed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. If we left it up to companies to fix the problems they created, there would still be leaded gasoline, whale oil and chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol cans.
By failing to enact a plastic bag ban the current Eagle Town Council, whose names are Anne McKibbin, Kevin Brubeck, Mikel Kerst, Matt Solomon, Paul Witt, Scott Turnipseed and Andy Jessen, have made their legacy, which will last 500 years, profoundly clear: a large plastic pile of trash.
Byron Crawford is an Eagle resident.