Local Takes Initiative to Ban Plastic Bags in Crested Butte

By April Mayhew
Crested Butte Film Festival

Benjamin Swift is a Crested Butte local emerging filmmaker whose film, Crested Butte Nordic Hits The Streets, was a success at the 2015 Crested Butte Film Festival Mountain Kids Film program. In between Nordic ski racing and finishing high school, Swift is a passionate environmental steward turned activist with his relatively new project, Plastic Bag Free CB, a movement to eliminate non-reusable plastic bags within Crested Butte and throughout Gunnison County.  

I caught up with Benjamin today over the phone and asked him how Plastic Bag Free CB came about last August. His motivation started when he viewed the documentary Bag It at school a few years ago and “witnessed the absolute wasteful use of plastic bags.” According to National Resource Defense Counsel Urban Program co-director, Eric A. Goldstein, “the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.” Although some of those bags get recycled, many result in waste, going on to clog up homes and businesses, landfills, waterways, and other natural resources.

Swift found this dependency on non-reusable plastic and paper bags “irksome,” so much so that he researched further and discovered that the average American’s habitual dependency on non-reusable bags was quite astounding. He explained that an estimated 12 million of barrels of oil are needed to manufacture enough bags to fulfill said bad habit. [i]

Impassioned, Swift got to work and formed Plastic Bag Free CB, which gained momentum when GenerationOn and local school organizations provided grant funding. Swift explained the three components of Plastic Bag Free CB:

#1           Offer a fee-based reusable bag option; all proceeds go to Plastic Bag Free CB.
With the help of fellow high school students, the Plastic Bag Free CB logo was designed and applied to reusable bags, which were then distributed with marketing material to participating locations within the town of Crested Butte. Today, just 3 storefronts have allowed displays of Plastic Bag Free CB materials and reusable bags. The largest local grocery store, Clark’s Market, has yet to support this initiative, although Swift is pursuing audience with upper management in the hope that its stance can be swayed.

#2           Borrow and Bring Back.
Reusable bags require more energy to manufacture and recycle than non-reusable bags, with a realized benefit only after multiple reuses. Purchasing a reusable bag will benefit the environment when the bag has opportunity to be recycled often, up to 131 times depending on the material.[ii]  Within the community of Crested Butte, many locals strictly use reusable bags; inevitably, someone will forget to bring them from home. At checkout they will reach for one of two choices: free non-reusable bags or fee-based reusable bags.

Swift solved this problem by offering a 3rd choice: borrow a Plastic Bag Free CB reusable bag and return it during your next visit. Therefore, non-reusable bags won’t be touched, and his product has an opportunity to make an impact. How’s that for innovation and problem-solving! 

#3           Community Awareness and Action.
Community support for Plastic Bag Free CB has been huge, with private and anonymous donors spreading support in a variety of ways.  During the holiday season, an anonymous customer was motivated to offer more than the cost of a Plastic Bag Free CB reusable bag. When shopping in Mountain Earth, he asked the store clerk to count the collected donations, then matched the bank.

Swift’s end goal is big - to eliminate plastic bags within the greater Gunnison Valley. Understanding the need for community awareness, he looked towards bringing the documentary Bag It to the Crested Butte and Gunnison communities but was thwarted by the cost of airing the film. Enter Michael and Jen Brody of Crested Butte Music Festival, who were so inspired by Plastic Bag Free CB that they sponsored the licensing of the film for Swift’s project.

Although a statewide legislative initiative to ban plastic bags throughout Colorado failed in 2009 (SB513), several cities within the state have successfully altered the way non-reusable bags are distributed within their governed regions. Today 8 towns across Colorado have all approved ordinances regulating, on a variety of levels, the distribution of non-reusable plastic bags: Aspen, Boulder City, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Durango, Roaring Fork Valley, Telluride, and Vail.[iii] Some ordinances require bags to be of a certain thickness as well as other specific requirements. In Telluride, non-reusable plastic bags were banned altogether; paper non-reusable bags are required to be made of “no old growth fiber, 100% recyclable, 40% minimum of PCW and specific ID requirements.” Telluride’s penalty for repeat offenders comes with a price; after an initial written warning, violators will be fined $50, and repetitive subsequent violations can expect to be fined as much as $300.[iv]

Large cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, have all enacted restricted distribution of non-reusable plastic bags. Just last summer Hawaii became the first state banning single-use plastic bags at store checkouts.

As of January 1, 146 California communities have banned non-reusable plastic and legislation to make it a statewide law will be on the November ballot.[v]  Some of these cities and counties have seen use of these materials decrease by 95%, paper bag use decrease by 30%, and plastic litter in waterways decrease by 60%.[vi]

Swift has only a few months left in high school and wants Plastic Bag Free CB to continue evolving even when he leaves for college. Paramount to this will be the continued support by this community, other students, Crested Butte town council member Erika Vohman, and the National Honor Society. United, this project can see a life beyond that of the 2016 school year.

Bag It will be showing this Sunday, January 17th at 6:30pm at The Crested Butte Old Rock Library, and on Sunday, February 21st at 6:30pm at the Gunnison Library.  Official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRjPkl_4lmM

Plastic Bag Free CB on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/BagFreeCB/

Plastic Bag Free CB Participating Retailers:
The Chopwood Mercantile  120 Elk Ave. #2044  www.chopwoodmercantile.com/

Mountain Earth Whole Foods405 4th St. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mountain-Earth-Whole-Foods/137451936296931

The Mountain Store203 Elk Avewww.cbmtnstore.com/
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[i] NDRC Press Release “NRDC Lauds Passage of New York City Council Legislation Requiring Groceries, Retailers to Provide Plastic Bag Recycling for Consumers” NEW YORK (January 9, 2008) http://www.nrdc.org/media/2008/080109.asp

[ii] United Kingdom Report: SC030148 “Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006” February 2011, ISBN: 978-1-84911-226-0

[iii] All-Plast.com“Colorado”  http://all-plast.com/colorado/; Baglaws.com“Colorado-Bag Legislation” http://www.baglaws.com/legislation.php?state=Colorado

[iv] Telluride Ordinance No. 1340, Sept. 14, 2010

[v] The Plastic Bag Ban: What it Means and 12 Tips to Master It, April Mae Saenz Johnson  Dec 31, 2015 https://sacramentopress.com/2015/12/31/the-plastic-bag-ban-what-it-means-and-12-tips-to-master-it/

[vi] City of American Canyon Single-Use Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.cityofamericancanyon.org/home/showdocument?id=7931