No, it’s not the average annual income of visitors to Telluride.
It’s the number of plastic shopping bags given away each year in just one Telluride grocery store, according to Sheep Mountain Alliance Program Director David Allen.
A number that is just a small fraction of the five trillion plastic bags that are manufactured annually around the world, Allen told Telluride Town Council on Tuesday.
It’s a frightening statistic that has driven Sheep Mountain Alliance and the New Community Coalition to embark together on an educational campaign designed to convince Telluridians to forego plastic shopping bags in favor of reusable bags – once and for all.
“The issue here is that plastic bags don’t biodegrade,” said Allen. Instead, they break down into little pieces when exposed to light. And not only are these bits of bags unsightly, but they also pose health risks to animals, he explained.
“I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t come across some research on the negative impact of plastic bags,” he said.
The education campaign is multi-pronged and has already begun in local grocery stores, where small cards asking, “Did you bring your bag today?” are located near the checkout stands.
“That’s really the motto we’re trying to drive home,” Allen said.
He also told council that local grocery store managers have agreed to have their cashiers wear buttons emblazoned with the same logo as well.
“Cashiers are at the point of sale,” he explained. “They need to be very mindful of even asking their customers if they need plastic bags.”
And for every reusable bag that is used or purchased at checkout, the Village Market has also agreed to give five cents to the NCC’s Green Fund. That fund finances renewable energy projects in San Miguel County.
Allen next held up a flyer bearing the words, “This is a plastic bag-free establishment.”
Soon he and others will begin visiting local merchants to talk to them about voluntarily phasing plastic bags out of their businesses.
“I’d like to see one of these signs in every main street business window,” he said.
And since most visitors to Telluride will probably forget to stuff a cloth shopping bag in with their ski boots, the campaign is also encouraging local hotels to present welcome gifts to their guests in reusable shopping bags.
Another idea being floated is the creation of a “Telluride, Crested Butte, Aspen Plastic Bag Reduction Challenge,” Allen said. He described it as a friendly competition between green mountain communities to see who can reduce plastic bag use the quickest.
“I think it’s a campaign that has some teeth to it,” Allen said, adding that he has been in touch with environmental organizations in both towns and has received positive feedback.
Ultimately, the SMA/NCC education campaign has an even larger goal than simply reducing the number of plastic bags used in this community.
“I want to be completely transparent,” Allen told council. “[Sheep Mountain Alliance] would like to assist Town Council in drafting an ordinance to ban plastic bags in Telluride.”
Admittedly, the town isn’t ready for such a drastic measure yet. And it won’t be, Allen said, until people here adopt a whole new approach to shopping.
Council enthusiasm received Allen’s presentation, underscored when Mayor Pro-Tem Andrea Benda began distributing hemp-cloth bags to her colleagues.
“We hopefully will be very supportive of the effort that Sheep Mountain Alliance is doing because it’s a worthwhile effort,” Mayor Stu Fraser told his colleagues and a handful of spectators.
On behalf of the local business community, Diana Carey of the Telluride Business Alliance lent her support for the campaign, albeit with some reservations.
Carey told council that while the TBA cares about the issue, “we have to look at how businesses run and how they can afford to run in Telluride,” she said.
She noted that a few local businesses have just ordered two-year supplies of plastic shopping bags, and the idea of an eventual ordinance banning their use was disquieting.
“We feel very strongly about this issue and how we can ask the businesses – ask them – to start phasing out plastic bags,” she said, emphasizing a voluntary approach to plastic bag reduction by local merchants.
“The ordinance is what we fear because of the fact that, again, there are businesses that just could not afford right now to completely throw away their plastic bags and go to something different.”
Allen, who stated earlier in his presentation that he sought to reach out to various community groups and interests because, “collaboration yields the greatest outcome,” assured Carey that he is aware of the economic climate in Telluride and the cost of doing business.
“I completely take it upon myself, Sheep Mountain Alliance and the New Community Coalition to drive home this education campaign to help change people’s habits and create a community that thinks about taking reusable shopping bags with them prior to leaving the house,” he said.
“And in the long run that will actually save these businesses money.”