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Watch out for the bag monster

A Sasquatch-like creature will be roaming the streets of Park City next week, but don’t be frightened. The "bag monster’s" mission is handing out prizes and spreading awareness about a campaign to help consumers break their dependence on one-use plastic shopping bags.

What began as an initiative by the Park City High School Environmental Club has grown into a collaboration between a number of community groups, including the Environmental Club, Recycle Utah, and a city leadership class, to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags.

Megan Fernandez, leader of Park City Municipal’s Leadership 14 class, explained that the use of plastic shopping bags should be a concern of the general public for a number of reasons. Local landfills are nearing capacity, the use of oil for manufacture of plastic bags could be used elsewhere, and the impact bags have on the natural world are Fernandez’s main concerns.

Lola Beatlebrox, marketing director at Recycle Utah, wants to remind consumers that plastic bags don’t biodegrade; they just break down into microscopic pieces called plastic polymers, which find their way into the water supply and the food chain. Beatlebrox explained that pieces of plastic that originate in Summit County migrate around the world after they get in the water supply, adding to a global problem.

The groups drafted an ordinance they originally hoped would ban the use of one-use plastic bags in Park City. After investigating similar initiatives in other parts of the country, the local campaign decided to pass a voluntary ordinance instead. Fernandez explained that similar ordinances in Seattle and Malibu are involved in legal battles with the plastic bag industry. Fernandez and her campaign decided they should try to make changes on the part of the consumer instead of through business. The result is the Bag the Bag campaign.

According to the ordinance, of the approximately 10,347,700 disposable shopping bags used by Summit County residents each week, only 0.6 percent end up being recycled. The ordinance encourages residents to eliminate their use of plastic shopping bags and instead bring their own bags to grocery stores because of the environmental impact the bags cause. The ordinance will be presented to city and county planning meetings in the next few weeks. Fernandez said that both the city and county are expected to adopt the ordinance.

The campaign will kick-off on Sunday, Sept. 21 with an awareness push by the "bag monster" at the Park Silly Sunday Market. Throughout the following week, campaign members will be handing out prizes to shoppers caught with reusable bags. Prizes will include gift certificates to local restaurants, tickets to the local film series, and other prizes, Fernandez explained.

The week will conclude on Sunday, Sept. 28 with, "A day without a bag," which is meant to be a countywide push for all consumers to bring their own bags when they go shopping.

The bag monster will also visit local elementary schools next week to raise awareness about the impact of one-use plastic bags. He will give a reusable shopping bag to each elementary student and ask them to encourage their parents to use it every time they go shopping.

Dolly Duke, the president of the Park City High School Environmental Club explained that the campaign isn’t trying to force this action on consumers, but they want changes in behavior to be voluntary. Fernandez explained that a 20 cent "green tax" is being imposed on consumers in Ireland who need one-use shopping bags. After the tax was imposed, the country saw a 90 percent reduction in the use of plastic bags, according to Fernandez.

Duke explained that they are focusing their effort on the grocery stores, where they think they can have the greatest impact. Duke pointed out that one challenge is helping consumers remember their bags. Beatlebrox said that it’s better for consumers to ask for paper bags if they forget to bring their own bags. Also, Beatlebrox explained that the problem isn’t that consumers don’t have reusable shopping bags; they’re available at most grocery stores for 99 cents. For locals who don’t have any reusable shopping bags, the Bag the Bag campaign will distribute donated bags all next week.


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