Two years ago, the Town of Breckenridge adopted the Sustainable Breck Plan in an effort to ensure the town is sustainable into the future. As part of the plan, the town has chosen ten specific areas in which to take action, including resource conservation, transportation, water and land use. Part of the action plan involved an effort to reduce the number of disposable bags used in town.
According to research, approximately 2- to 3-million single-use bags are used each year in Breckenridge alone. While reducing the number of bags may seem like a simple solution toward a more sustainable community, the town council grappled with how to do so. They considered whether to impose a full ban or to implement fees for plastic bags, but worried that doing so would scare away the visitors so crucial to the towns economy.
In the end, it was a group of local fifth graders that convinced the council to take action.
Four students from Dillon Valley Elementary: Emilie McAtamney, Anna Rose Craig, Elsa Bates and Jacob Brewer, chose to take on the plastic bag issue as part of their Destination Imagination (DI) project. Destination Imagination is an educational competition that gives students the chance to experience the creative process from imagination to innovation.
As part of the project, the children needed to identify a need in the community and take action around it, explains Jennifer McAtamney, Emilies mother, DI team coach and Breckenridge council member.
They decided the biggest need was to do what they can to help the earth, she says. Their philosophy was that if there is no snow, then there are no tourists and then their parents have no jobs.
At the same time, the DI teammates and their classmates were studying the Declaration of Independence at school. This inspired the team to create a declaration against plastic bags and single-use water bottles, eventually turning the declaration into a petition. The fifth graders collected signatures from locals and tourists last winter, during the International Snow Sculpture Championships, a notoriously cold time of the year.
Despite frigid temperatures, the group collected 400 signatures from people around the world who said they were willing, if not eager, to discontinue the use of plastic bags and single-use water bottles.
The DI team presented its findings to the town council in April, urging the council to take action and it did; the council unanimously passed an ordinance to impose a $0.10 fee on single-use bags, including paper. (Thicker plastic bags are not included under the mandatory fee.)
The council was really grappling with this, says Kim Dykstra-DiLallo, Director of Communications for the Town of Breckenridge. Those kids came in and made their presentation and the council said, “You’re right.” Quite honestly, that pushed our town council to make that decision. They influenced a very major decision in the community.
The ordinance went into effect on October 15th. Emilie and her teammates may have completed their DI project but, perhaps inspired by the results of their efforts, they continue to work to make the world a better place. Just days after the fee was imposed, Emilie and her friends stood outside Breckenridge’s City Market, offering complimentary Breckenridge reusable bags to those shoppers that would sign their declaration.
Maybe we could take it farther than Breckenridge,Emilie says, when asked how their success has inspired her. Next step? Perhaps other towns in the county, like Frisco, or beyond.