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Vail likely to adopt bag ban

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily

VAIL — Town officials started talking about community recycling and waste reduction in 2009. The town may act to ban plastic grocery store bags by 2015.

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday got a relatively in-depth look at a potential ban on grocery bags, and a number of residents turned out to comment. Most support the idea.

A bag ban similar to those in mountain towns including Breckenridge, Aspen, Telluride and Carbondale came up last year when the council was discussing a town-wide recycling measure. But officials felt taking action on bags added more complexity to an already-complicated plan. With the recycling law in place, town sustainability director Kristen Bertuglia has since been working on ideas to cut plastic-bag waste.

During her Tuesday presentation, Bertuglia said single-use grocery bags can take up to 1,000 years to degrade in landfills. Worldwide, about 1 million bags per minute are put into circulation.

The bags can’t be recycled with other plastics and tend to either slow down or complicate other recycling operations.

Shawn Bruckman, sustainability director for local trash-hauler Honeywagon, said the bags are a problem for the company as it hauls recyclable materials, adding that more public education is needed so customers understand how best to dispose of or recycle grocery bags.

But not everyone who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting was fully sold on the idea of a ban on plastic grocery bags.

Resident Frank Barborek is a 35-year veteran of the plastics industry. He noted that many reusable shopping bags sold today are imported from China or Vietnam — something that generally earns demerits for sustainability.

Barborek asked the council to take a closer look at recycling the bags in use today.

‘TAKE A LEADERSHIP ROLE’

Others, though, said it’s past time for Vail to address single-use bags.

While acknowledging that Vail has other models to follow from other communities, resident Bob Moroney said it’s time for Vail to “take a leadership role” in bag use.

“I’m embarrassed it’s taken us this long,” Moroney said, urging the council not to succumb to “paralysis by overanalysis.”

Kim Langmaid, of the Walking Mountains Science Center, another longtime Vail resident, said she supports any decisions that encourage environmental stewardship, but added that a bag ban is “almost more symbolic. It gets people thinking about reducing waste.”

Council members will almost certainly see an official ordinance in the next several weeks. When they do, they’ll have to balance encouraging reusable bag use with catering to guests who probably don’t travel with their own shopping bags.

Council member Greg Moffet said he frequently travels to places that ban plastic grocery bags. The Hawaiian island of Maui, for instance, offers only paper shopping bags and charges 10 cents each for them.

“I’m not worried particularly about the impact on guests,” Moffet said. “It’s not that burdensome.”

But other council members wondered about the wisdom of charging for bags. Bertuglia’s draft proposal would charge for bags, giving about 25 percent of what’s collected to grocery stores for administrative costs, with the rest going to town education programs.

Mayor Andy Daly said the Whole Foods market in Silverthorne provides paper bags — which break down much faster than plastic — at no charge to customers who don’t bring their own bags.

“We shouldn’t be charging our guests and citizens a fee,” Daly said, adding that the town can afford to pay for its own education efforts.

Council member Margaret Rogers, though, supports a fee and favors gradually expanding a plastic bag ban to retail stores and restaurants, too. A fee, she said, is perhaps the best way to change consumer behavior.

But Daly countered that the only behavior change would come from local residents.

All council members, though, acknowledged it’s past time for the town to act.

“I’m a little embarrassed that the last time we discussed this was 2009,” council member Ludwig Kurz said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.


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