Several Western ski resort towns, including Aspen, Telluride, Whistler and Breckenridge, have recently talked about banning plastic bags. And since Park City prides itself on being a trendsetter, particularly when it comes to environmental issues, local leaders have also been tossing around the idea.
Their heart is in the right place. A glance along the roadsides in Park City and Summit County is proof that plastic bags, especially the lightweight variety carried out of grocery stores and Walmarts by the bale every day, are becoming an environmental scourge. They can be found wrapped around fences and sagebrush from Pinebrook to Park City and from Wanship to Woodland.
Even when they are thrown into the garbage or, at best, are placed in the recycling bin, they continue to degrade the environment. According to the local experts at Recycle Utah, they take up valuable space in the landfill and do not decompose. Instead they disintegrate into toxic particles and leach into lakes and oceans.
So the sooner people are weaned from their single-use plastic shopping bags, the better. But an outright ban is probably a bad idea.
Typically, any time something is banned, demand for that item increases. A plastic bag ban could easily instigate a backlash. In the end, the rule would likely be repealed, the same people who carried reusable bags would continue to do so, and plastic bag defenders would be even more resolute in their demand for throwaway bags.
Better to think like a clever parent who knows that the carrot is always more effective than the stick.
The Market at Park City, for instance, has the right idea. The Market offers a nickel rebate for every bag a shopper brings in to use. Whole Foods also rewards customers for providing their own bags by making a small donation to a local charity for every recycled bag.
Recycle Utah and Park City Municipal could probably come up with a lot of additional incentives. In 2009, Park City participated in a competition to use more recycled bags than other ski towns. The contest was sponsored by The Colorado Association of Ski Towns and the winner, Basalt, Colo., received a solar panel for a local elementary school. It's a good bet that a similar contest would fire up Park City's competitive spirit once again.
In the meantime, a little peer-group pressure, support from businesses that are willing to come up with their own incentives and creative leadership could be much more effective in the long term than a divisive outright ban.