This morning, Recycle Utah’s Insa Riepen was on KPCW talking about recycling. She mentioned that the Town of Vail (in Colorado) has banned all single use plastic bags and is continuing her push for our area to do the same. This was proposed a few years ago and promptly died over concerns of how it may impact tourists. Proponents of the bag ban cite the negative impacts of bags on our landfills and the impact they have on recycling machines when put in curbside recycling (hint: never put a plastic bag in curbside recycling). We’d always thought in a perfect world, we’d all have 10 reusable bags we’d bring to the grocery store. However, in the real-world, we realized it was likely a shift from plastic bags to paper bags.
We were surprised to find out that paper bags aren’t much better than plastic when it comes to global warming. You must reuse a paper bag 3 times before it has less impact than a single use bag on global warming. The non-woven polypropylene reusable bags sold at Whole Foods must be used 11 times and a standard cotton tote has to be 131 times to have less global warming impact.
Thee are of course landfill benefits to killing the plastic bag, but it does tell us that if Summit County and Park City ban plastic bags they also need to ban paper bags too. This would force people into using reusable bags, so they are used enough times to break-even environmentally. Even with that, there is still the issue of visitors. If visitors come to Park City, buy 3 reusable Whole Foods bags, and throw them away on their way out of town, we are in worse shape yet.
It’s a tough topic to crack and may be one without a good solution. We admire Ms Riepen’s passion and persistence but in this case there may be better fish to fry.