TELLURIDE – Ski resorts may be emblematic of conspicuous consumption for some, but Telluride and Aspen are set to prove that perception wrong – and engage in some friendly competition to benefit the environment while they’re at it.
Beginning on Saturday, May 24, the two mountain towns will go head to head to learn which can rally more people to forgo disposable, plastic bags in favor of reusable bags each time they visit the grocery store.
It’s the Aspen-Telluride Plastic Bag Reduction Challenge and according to Sheep Mountain Alliance Project Coordinator David Allen, who spearheaded the campaign, there’s no need to speculate on the outcome.
“Telluride is going to win, I’m confident of that,” said Allen.
With evidence mounting that plastic bags are choking waterways, killing animals and generally turning the planet into one big landfill, the challenge is this: Clark’s Market, the Village Market and the Mountain Village Market will each donate five cents to the town’s Green Fund every time a reusable bag is used or bought at checkout between the start of the competition and Sunday, July 6.
Clark’s and City Market in Aspen will do the same.
Clark’s Market Director Tom Clark, Jr. said the company recently brought in a large stock of reusable bags that retail for 99 cents, and which it plans to make part of its Cash Saver customer loyalty program.
“We’re excited about having the reusable bags on Cash Saver. Basically it makes them a free option for our loyal customers,” he said.
“We’re very excited to be a part in this competition,” said City Market/King Super’s spokesperson Trail Daugherty. According to Daugherty, customers from the 142 supermarkets in the two chains he represents have returned 10.3 million bags to the stores for recycling since August 2007.
Daugherty added that he has already made the switch to reusable bags in his own home.
“Now we have them in both cars so you don’t forget,” he said.
“It feels good to know that you’re not contributing to that problem.”
At the end of the competition, whichever town has raised the most money per capita from shopping with reusable bags – in Telluride the funds will be earmarked to finance renewable energy projects in San Miguel County – will be declared the winner and receive two solar monitor sets from the runner-up for use in the public schools.
The idea got its start a few months ago when SMA partnered with The New Community Coalition to initiate a plastic bag reduction campaign in Telluride and Mountain Village. The goal was to raise awareness for the environmental and social cost of the single-use plastic bag and to promote a “European” approach to shopping in which people would shop with reusable bags rather than rely on paper or plastic to get their goods home.
Sounds easy enough, but strictly volunteer efforts at reducing the use of plastic bags are ineffective, according to Allen.
But rather than lobby for a plastic bag fee or tax like one in Ireland that successfully reduced plastic bag consumption by 90 percent, or an ordinance banning the bags outright as was passed last year in San Francisco, SMA tried to think up a way to give the community a positive, not punitive, motivation to voluntarily embrace the reusable bag.
“We want to disprove all the statistics that say that voluntary reduction efforts don’t work,” he said.
So Allen contacted the Community Office for Resource Efficiency in Aspen and suggested a collaborative effort.
“It has worked out really great for Aspen,” said CORE Climate Coordinator Nathan Ratledge, explaining that Allen’s suggestion coincided with discussion already taking place in Aspen about an ordinance to ban plastic bags.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning of a partnership,” he said.
“Initially we looked at putting an ordinance on the books to eliminate plastic bag use within Telluride,” said Mayor Stu Fraser, praising an earlier collaboration between SMA, The New Community Coalition and the Telluride Business Alliance that has already resulted in significant voluntary plastic bag reduction throughout the community.
“We will revisit whether there is a need for an actual ordinance related to plastic bags after this competition takes place. This community stands behind protecting our planet,” Fraser said.
“Seriously, I think we can make a good start on bag blight with this project,” said Aspen’s Mayor Mick Ireland.
The competition could be a litmus test for a future, more comprehensive competition involving other ski towns in Colorado and beyond.
Allen said that throughout his research he has found no other instance of a friendly competition being used to spur on voluntary plastic bag reduction.
“I am hopeful that this approach will work,” he said.