Small steps in place, giant leaps someday
By Kendra Walker
Crested Butte is now fully immersed in a plastic bag–free life. The ban on plastic bags that went into effect September 2018 has been relatively smooth, despite some businesses requesting extensions to April 1, 2019 due to a surplus of previously purchased plastic bags.
The ban on single-use plastic bags was initially started by a Crested Butte Community School student and then passed by the Crested Butte Town Council in 2016.
“This is essentially a community-policed ordinance. So far we haven’t had any real enforcement issue and hope it continues that way,” said Eric Treadwell of the town of Crested Butte Community Development Department. “Everyone is positive.”
Brittany Perkins of Sustainable Crested Butte believes the transition has been easy on the public in part because, “Many towns in the U.S. have already banned plastic bags. . . It isn’t all that shocking to people when they go to a store and they are not offered a plastic bag.”
To help inspire the plastic-free habit, Sustainable Crested Butte initiated the Boomerang Bag program in Crested Butte, the first Colorado community to do so. The program provides businesses access to a supply of handcrafted bags that can be used, reused and returned by customers.
“Stores seem to be really interested in this program and right now we have about 12 participating stores,” Perkins said. While interest isn’t an issue, keeping the bags in rotation is. “Getting bags back has been a challenge because they are all handmade and they look really cool, so people want to keep them.”
Stores like Clark’s Market have found the Boomerang Bags to be helpful alongside the offering of recyclable paper bags. “A lot of people come in and bring their bags, take bags and bring them back,” said market director Will Stevens.
Local artist Bailey Hosier has also contributed her talents to the cause with T-Shirt Revolution, handmade bags she has sewn out of recycled t-shirts. She collects old shirts from Six Points Thrift Store and Boom-A-Rang in Gunnison, transforms them into bags and distributes them free of purchase to businesses around town, including Clark’s, Paragon Gallery, Mountain Earth and the farmers market.
“I just want them to be free to get the idea out there,” Hosier said. “People are overwhelmed and don’t want to pay for a bag. It’s a cool psychological thing when they realize someone cared enough and doesn’t want anything in return.”
Hosier has made approximately 1,700 bags to date and plans to continue distributing them for free to inspire people to be more sustainably focused.
And while the community is in general agreement on the importance of reducing plastic waste, replacing it with paper options as the final solution is still up for debate. While biodegradable and easy to recycle, the production of paper bags is extremely wasteful of energy and water and creates environmental impacts rather than omitting them.
“We wanted there to be a fee for all single-use bags [for all businesses], but you can still use paper bags,” said Sustainable Crested Butte board member Erika Vohman. “Fees for bags are a huge deterrent. It’s only five cents, but in just that minute it takes to think about it, somehow that works and people decline any bag at all.”
However, a paper bag fee is up to each individual business. Clark’s, where out-of-town visitors still rely heavily on bags for their purchases, does not charge customers for their recyclable paper bags.
Mountain Earth plans to implement a fee at 25 cents per bag in the near future, with no date determined yet. “I wish we could hurry up and get people trained,” said owner Cini Jackson. “With the nature of the tourist community it’s going to be a bit more of a challenge. As time goes along and there are fewer and fewer options, folks will figure it out.”
We’ve gotten feedback from business owners that even a paper bag is not the best solution,” said Treadwell. “Several stores are encouraging customers to simply carry their purchases out of the store without a bag.”
Vohman says Sustainable Crested Butte hopes the Town Council can look into paper bag fees in the future but remains skeptical, as no fire has been lit to move forward.
As for other steps in creating a greener Crested Butte, Sustainable Crested Butte would also like to eventually ban plastic straws and plastic water bottles. The group also provides supplies for waste-free events, including cutlery, dishes, cloth napkins, tablecloths, etc., and then washes everything after the event. “We’ve had everything from ‘I’m having a family reunion and need 20 sets of everything,’ to ‘I’m getting married and I want to have a zero-waste wedding,’” said Vohman.
But the biggest hurdle for Sustainable Crested Butte is manpower. They are currently looking for more volunteers to help maintain all current sustainable programs. If you are interested in participating, email Sustainable Crested Butte at firstname.lastname@example.org.