In 2010, Telluride resident Suzan Beraza released her documentary, “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?” to critical acclaim (and an Audience Choice Award) at Mountainfilm.
That same year, a ban on plastic bags became the law in the Town of Telluride.
In the ensuing years, Beraza’s own career has taken off; today she’s the executive director of Mountainfilm. Yet the problem of plastics — the focus of Beraza’s film — has increased, not only in the world at large but also (perhaps ironically) in Beraza’s own hometown.
It is not for a lack of goodwill. “The Town of Mountain Village set up a goal to be zero waste by 2020, and the Town of Telluride is working on it and chipping away on it,” Mountain Village resident Jonathan Greenspan recalled thinking recently. “But we still haven’t solved the problem. Not even close.
“Two of us, Kiersten Stephens and myself, said, ‘Let’s take this one on,’” Greenspan said. “We did countless hours of research.” They learned (among other things) that banning plastic bags is not enough. The effects not just of plastic bags but also of so-called single-use plastics — straws, coffee stirrers, styrofoam packaging and more — on ecosystems and wildlife worldwide is profound.
In a work session for the Towns of Telluride and Mountain Village on Oct. 4, members of the Telluride Ecology Commission (of which Greenspan and Stephens are both members), the Mountain Village Green Team and others presented their findings in a report called “The Last Straw and Single Use Plastics.” From Seattle and Miami Beach to India and Taiwan, the report noted, “bans on a variety of single-use plastics are being legislated.”
Companies, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Adidas, Ikea and others, “are also getting on board by eliminating the use of single-use plastics.”
No less than the American Chemistry Council — which is in the business of promoting the use of plastic — “took a formal product stewardship position” earlier this year “aimed at encouraging consumers to use fewer plastic straws.”
And the kicker: The Telluride Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant “has reported that a significant amount of small plastic waste is too small to be filtered out of our sewage,” meaning “we are directly participating in the spread of toxic micro plastic pollution in our region.”
Greenspan and his colleagues did surveys of dining establishments in Mountain Village, and to their surprise, 100 percent “agreed that an initiative banning single-use plastics was a good idea. The majority of them, like Tracks, had already made the switch. They told us their expenses had skyrocketed because these plastics would get into drains, and they’d have to clean them up. We hope to finish up our Telluride surveying this week. So far, we’ve had similar results.”
The town councils both agreed “they want to move forward with an ordinance,” Greenspan said. “The next step is a first reading, which we hope to get on November’s calendar, with a second reading by December.”
The new law would ban “plastic straws, plastic utensils, styrofoam to-go containers, even the little plastic sword you put your martini olives on,” Greenspan said. “There’s a whole laundry list of things.” It would also, at last, ban plastic bags in Mountain Village. “We hope the two ordinances, in Telluride and Mountain Village, will mirror each other,” Greenspan said. “You don’t want to get out of the Gondola” and find a different set of rules.
The members of the Ecology Commission and the Mountain Village Green Team have started the Waste Energy Citizen Action Network (WE-CAN), a nonprofit “we hope to have in place by the first of the year,” Greenspan said. Cath Jett, who recently became the chairman of the Mountain Village Green Team, said the single-use ban comes none too soon.
“Just because people are recycling plastics,” increasingly, “there’s no market for” the companies that pick them to sell them, she pointed out. “It’s kind of a pipe dream. And the problem is getting worse and worse. At the supermarket, beans that used to be in a can now come in a plastic pouch; rice that used to be in a recyclable container is in some weird Ziploc thing. We need to protect the environment so we can continue to live here. This is not a sustainable model.”