CHEYENNE – Community members gathered Saturday afternoon in the Cottonwood Room at the Laramie County Library to watch a documentary on plastic bags in light of the recent movement to ban single-use plastic bags in Cheyenne.
The screening of the documentary “Bag it” by the Wyoming Inland Ocean Coalition aimed to educate people on what single-use plastic bags are doing to the environment and the dangers they can pose.
Kelly Wright, chapter leader of the coalition, said a city ordinance is in the works to ban single-use plastic bags in Cheyenne. The ordinance is being reviewed by the city attorney and will be sponsored by council members Bryan Cook and Jeff White.
Councilman Pete Laybourn was in attendance and said the city doesn’t control the recycling market, but it does control its collection. He said the city of Cheyenne believes in recycling and has a lower contamination rate than many other places.
He said the city has a very tight budget, and things are challenging, but the city needs to support the recycling program. Watching the documentary really got to him, Laybourn said, and during the viewing, he thought of how he could change his ways.
Wyoming is a huge headwater state, Wright said, and what people do in Wyoming impacts the oceans. Wyoming water drains into water basins that then drain into the oceans.
After the documentary screening, three panelists addressed crowd questions: Sarah Vetter, a nutritionist with Natural Grocers; Owen Reese, 17, with the Laramie Youth Council; and Dennis Pino, city of Cheyenne sanitation/solid waste director.
A lot of community members asked panelists what can and can’t be recycled, why certain things can or can’t be recycled and how businesses choose environmental policies.
Pino said he’s been with the city for more than 40 years, and the city currently recycles number 1 and 2 plastics. Other types of plastic are harder to break down and convert into other products, which is why it is more difficult to find a market to recycle them.
China stopped taking United States recycling, so now a lot of places are struggling to find a market for their recycled goods, Pino said. He said he knows of some cities and towns that had to shut down their recycling programs when this change happened about a year ago.
“Cardboard right now, it’s being stored everywhere because there’s not enough places to remake cardboard,” Pino said. “So it’s really tough right now to get materials actually recycled back into material. The United States right now has opened a lot of new facilities here in the country to take cardboard and actually recycle cardboard again.”
He said plastic bags are one of the worst things to put in people’s recycling bins in Cheyenne because it isn’t recyclable that way. He said when people put plastic bags in their recycling, that material, more often than not, turns into trash.
Other areas around town do offer recycling for plastic bags and plastic liners, such as King Soopers and Target.
Owen said he’s working to introduce a bag fee in Laramie. He said staff at the Laramie city dump spend about 20% of their time chasing around plastic bags that are blown around in the landfill; they even had to buy mobile fencing to try to stop the plastic bags from being blown around.
The current proposed fee in Laramie would be 15 cents per bag, Owen said. Fees are usually more effective if they’re more expensive, he said, using Ireland as an example. In Ireland, there was a plastic bag fee introduced of 22 cents per bag, which converts to roughly 33 U.S. cents. When this fee was introduced, there was more than a 90% reduction in plastic bag use.
Jackson has also implemented a single-use plastic bag ban that went into effect April 15, 2019, according to the city. Wright also said the city of Sheridan recently reached out to her expressing interest in a plastic bag ban or fee.
Natural Grocers also has bagless checkout, Vetter said. People either have to bring their own bag, use one of their boxes or buy a reusable bag at checkout. She said she thinks every grocery store can use this model, and it sets an example.
Natural Grocers has had bagless checkout since 2009, and it’s estimated that the store has saved 330 million plastic bags from being put into landfills, Vetter said. In its produce section, it made the option to either use a paper bag or a bio bag.
“So, we’re trying to do what we can, of course ... we have to kind of sacrifice in certain areas, right?” Vetter said. “But I think that the problem we’re in is really because of our need for convenience. So if we can kind of step back a second and really ask ourselves, ‘Do we really need this convenience? You know, do we actually need this?’ We can really do a lot for ourselves there.”