Well, it's official. The City Council has acted. In the strongest possible non-binding, advisory language imaginable, the City Council has said that plastic shopping bags are officially frowned upon in Park City. Well, take that, global warming. Already the skies are more clear and the life of the landfill is extended by some length of time that is too short to be measured.
I am not a cheerleader for the plastic bag industry. Enough of them end up littered along the side of our roads and stuck in trees and fences that it's hard to make a strong case in support of them (though the same could be said for beer cans and all the other packaging material that comes around our stuff). If people want to carry reusable bags to the grocery store, by all means let them. The Chinese sweatshops are turning out some very nice shopping bags these days.
An outright ban on plastic bags seems unworkable here. Visitors arrive with the expectation that things will work more or less like they do at home, where the custom in the United States has been that when you buy groceries, the store puts them in a bag. With all the stuff people drag with them to have a ski vacation here, expecting them to pack their politically-correct, reusable grocery bags just seems a little much. The cultural norm may change, but we probably aren't the place to lead on that front.
Besides, even though the term for the grocery bags is "single-use plastic bags,"
they get reused. At my house, the plastic bags end up as trash can liners, dog-poop picker-uppers, and parts sorters out in the garage. Ironically, I also use them to sort my recycling and contain the paper so it doesn't blow all over creation when the county picks up the bin. If I didn't have the re-usable "single-use" bags, I would have to buy some kind of plastic bags to serve the same purpose.
The City's non-binding, advisory resolution of disapprobation is just such thin gruel that I have a hard time taking it seriously. Of all the environmental ills that exist in a town that is, at its core, an environmental illness, plastic bags are simply not a meaningful target. It's like swatting at gnats while being eaten by a grizzly bear. Or in this case, adopting a non-binding, advisory resolution strongly discouraging the swarming of gnats while being eaten by a grizzly bear. The issue has been under discussion for about a year, with who-knows-how-much staff time invested in studying the issue.
The City has done a good job with its own building projects trying to make them environmentally sound and energy efficient. However, I drove home the other night and noticed (from Silver Creek) the lights on the fields at Quinn's. They can be seen from Mars. My guess is more carbon was added to the atmosphere with that obnoxious, glaring lighting than from a year's worth of plastic bags. But in general, the City has pushed the technology with geothermal heating systems, solar panels, and so on. Those efforts deserve greater attention.
If there really is a commitment to lowering the environmental impact of a town based on jet travel, electrically-powered chairlifts and artificial snow, plastic bags — whether banned or simply frowned upon — isn't the place to make a difference. Maybe we adopt building codes that require solar panels on houses and commercial buildings. If that adds too much to the initial cost to maintain any sense of affordability in housing, exempt houses of a modest size. We might get a two-fer out of that, with people deciding to build smaller houses.
The steam rising off the heated driveways all winter is another place we might look to lower the energy use. Maybe we don't need the decorative wall-o-fire natural gas wasters that are cropping up in new projects. Would it be too much to ask for a non-binding, advisory resolution strongly frowning on burning natural gas just to burn it?
In a year as dry as this one, maybe a non-binding, advisory resolution disapproving of swampy lawns would be appropriate. I finished a bike ride at the Canyons by their mini-golf course the other day. The lawn was so over-watered that I actually sunk in about ankle deep walking across it. That would be a non-binding County resolution, but it was particularly annoying to me that while my hay crop is dying for lack of irrigation water, Canyons is watering as if they were raising rice.
The City has committed itself to monitor the plastic bag situation for two years now, then reconsider the non-binding action in 2015. I assume there will be a new position created to take the plastic bag census.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.