The towns of Telluride and Aspen, Colo., are taking a different approach to the plastic bag issue. Instead of proposing taxes or bans, they've set up a friendly competition to try to get residents to use reusable bags instead of plastics grocery bags. The Telluride Watch newspaper has a story about "The Great Plastics Bag Reduction Challenge." Starting Saturday, groceries in both towns will donate 5 cents to their town's Green Fund every time a reusable bag is used or purchased until July 6. Whichever town raises the most money per capita will win two solar monitor sets from the runner-up for use in the public schools. Plus have bragging rights over the other, of course.
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 [Sheep Mountain Alliance project coordinator David] 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.Sounds like a good idea. Consumers who prefer plastic -- including lots of folks with dogs, I'm sure -- can continue to use "disposable" bags. I've got one suggestion for any community considering copying this idea. How about giving credit to people who are offered a bag but turn it down? Or for taking a batch of bags back to the store to be recycled?