‘Bag It’ Movement Comes to Montrose
by Samantha Wright
Aug 04, 2012 | 2870 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BAG IT! Plastic bag-ban activists including Terry Acomb staged events around Montrose on Earth Day this year. (Courtesy photo)
BAG IT! Plastic bag-ban activists including Terry Acomb staged events around Montrose on Earth Day this year. (Courtesy photo)

MONTROSE – Lori Syme is helming a new initiative here to curb the prevalence of single-use plastics in the city – particularly the ubiquitous plastic bag.

Last week, Syme and other local and regional grassroots bag-ban advocates met with Montrose Mayor Thomas Smit and City Councillors Bob Nicholson and Judy Ann Files to discuss their concerns. Together, they watched portions of the film Bag It, a 2010 documentary about plastic bags and other plastics, and their unhealthy effects on humans, animals and the environment.

Ideally, Syme said, she would like to see Montrose adopt an ordinance banning the use of single-use plastic bags, like the ones adopted by Town of Telluride and an ever-expanding number of cities have adopted in the past two years as part of a growing “Bag It” movement.

“We have the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle,” she said. “I would like to add a fourth R: ‘refuse.’ I would like that to be the first one.”

But the councilors and mayor left the get-together uncommitted to a particular course of action.

“It’s all still up for discussion,” Files said this week, “We are willing to discuss the matter further, but only after getting information back from major grocery store owners. We don’t want to talk if it’s an automatic ‘no’ from the big ones.”

The plastic bag issue has been scheduled for a work session in October, which store managers have been invited to attend.

Syme is excited to have her foot in the door with the city to air the issue in a meaningful way, but Files expressed some doubt that the City of Montrose would opt for a blanket ban of single-use plastic bags, saying it’s up to the community to decide on the issue for themselves. She compared the issue to the city’s recycling efforts.

“We want to encourage everyone to recycle; we can’t mandate that, either. But we want to make it more convenient for people who want to do it.”

Syme, a social worker and avid rafter in her 50s who has lived in Montrose for 12 years – and in the region since 1992 – said she has never before considered herself to be an environmental activist. Now, she spends all of her spare time educating herself and others about the issue of overuse of single use plastics in the community and on the planet.

On Earth Day, Syme organized an event at four major grocery stores in Montrose. Together, a group of 20 volunteers gave away 1,300 reusable bags and sold an additional 200.

“It was a good awareness event,” she said.

She has also screened Bag It at the Montrose Public Library and made the available for people to check out there.

On July 4, Syme and fellow advocates hosted an event at the Ute Museum called “Tread Lightly,” at which kids were invited to paint their own reusable bags.

Syme has succeeded in getting the medical community on board with her cause, as well, responding to a growing number of health problems that can be traced to the overabundance of plastics in the environment.

Patrick O’Meara, D.O., the president of Montrose's medical group, the Curecanti Medical Society, and other physicians in Montrose are heading up an effort to include a Bag It curriculum in Montrose’s RE-1J school district.

Syme is the first to acknowledge that it is tough to break the plastic habit.

“I am the Montrose bag lady queen and I almost always forget to bring my own bags when I go shopping,” she admitted.

She has a simple solution to that problem: “Just carry your [unbagged] groceries out in the cart and put them in your reusable bags when you get there, or carry your stuff into the house unbagged. There are lots of other ways to do it than taking those bags you use for a minute or two, and they last for many lifetimes.”

In October 2010, the Town of Telluride became the first community in the state to ban the distribution of plastic bags. The bag ban came on the footsteps of the award-winning, locally produced film Bag It, whose creators advocate against the use of plastic bags.

Telluride’s law, which went into effect March 1, 2011, prohibits grocers and other retailers located within town limits from distributing most types of disposable plastic bags to customers.

The law also requires local grocery stores to collect a 10-cent per bag Advance Recovery Fee on the paper bags they give out. Per the ordinance, those bags must contain at least 40 percent recycled content with no old-growth fiber, and be 100 percent recyclable.

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