Friday, April 15, 2011

Hailey could ban use of disposable plastic bags

Wood River High School students inspired by Hailey’s “Just Bag It’ campaign

Express Staff Writer

The use of disposable plastic bags could soon be a thing of the past in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

Thanks to the efforts of a group of concerned Wood River High School students, Hailey could soon ban the use of disposable plastic bags at Hailey businesses.

Telluride, Colo., banned the free bags in March, following bans in China, Italy and elsewhere.

Sophomores Chase England, Lex Shapiro and Maggie Williams, members of the school's Environmental Club, presented the proposed change to city law before the City Council on Monday.

"The bags don't even start to biodegrade for a thousand years," said club advisor and Spanish teacher Erika Greenberg in an interview. "We want to reduce the production of them."

Under the proposal, plastic bags at stores would be banned entirely. Paper bags would be permitted, but at a cost of 15 cents each.

"Paper is equally bad for the environment because they also use raw materials which leads to deforestation," Greenberg said.

The City Council will hear public comment on the proposed ban at a meeting on Monday, April 25.

The Environmental Club's efforts stem from a "Just Bag It" program organized by Elizabeth Jeffreys on Earth Day, April 22, 2010.

Jeffreys, while working under an $8,943 Materials Management Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded to Hailey last year, organized high school students to help educate the public about reducing the use of disposable plastic bags.

According to the Just Bag It project, people in the United States consumed 100 billion carryout bags in 2010. Production of the bags used some 12 million barrels of oil. Only 1 to 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled.

"What we have decided is that a small community like ours can ban the use of disposable plastic bags and leave paper bags for tourists and others who forget own bags," Greenberg said.

Under the proposed ban, based on a similar plan adopted in Ireland in 2002, those using the paper bags will be charged a 15-cent fee per bag used.

Half the collected fees will be given to retailers to help offset the cost of paying for both paper and plastic bags. The rest will go into a city fund to help with public environmental education in Hailey.

The idea behind the ban is to encourage people to use their own reusable shopping bags.

Greenberg said that prior to 2002, consumers in Ireland used 1.2 billion plastic bags a year. The country saw a 90 percent reduction in the consumption of plastic bags during the first year of a ban and raised $9.6 million for environmental education.

"It will save our retailers thousands of dollars in costs for the production of plastic bags," she said.

Atkinsons' Markets, King's department store and several other local businesses have voluntarily agreed to participate in the proposed ban. Greenberg said she's still waiting for word from Albertsons' corporate offices on the company's official views on the topic.

"We have a globally minded community," she said. "The challenge will be getting community members out in support of this."

The Environmental Club's presentation was filmed by documentary filmmaker David Butterfield, who is working under a Climate Showcase Grant won by the city to expand and document its ongoing environmental legislation and educational programs.

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