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South Jeffco Scouts propose plastic bag ban to commissioners

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By Deborah Swearingen

When Mia Jordan saw a photo of a turtle tangled in a piece of plastic, she knew exactly what her Girl Scout Silver Award project would be.

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Alongside three fellow South Jeffco Scouts – Ella McIntyre, Giana Akins and Amanda Bontempo – Mia worked on a proposal to ban plastic bags in Jefferson County. After an ample amount of hard work – 12 hours per girl, to be specific – the group of soon-to-be freshmen at Columbine High School presented their idea during public comment at the Jeffco Board of County Commissioners’ July 31 meeting.

To receive the Silver Award, Girl Scouts must create a plan that makes a change in their community. Their idea? Ban plastic bags from retail stores across the county, and charge customers 10 cents for paper bags, which the girls say are more environmentally friendly and more likely to be recycled.

Prior to last week’s proposal, the project entailed a lot of research. The four Scouts looked at the environmental harm that can be caused by plastic and examined other jurisdictions, including California, Boulder and Avon, with similar bans.

“Animals eat plastic bags, which get toxins infused in them,” Mia said. “And as more animals eat each other, the toxins go up the food chain, and they end up on our dinner tables. And also the toxins get into our water supply, so the toxins impact our food and water.”

Additionally, the girls noted that plastic bags can litter Colorado’s highways and parks. The bags come at an expense to grocery stores, a cost that ultimately falls on the consumer through higher pricing.

Pushback

Upon sharing the idea with the commissioners, the four Scouts were met with tough questions and some pushback, particularly from Commissioner Tina Francone, who represents the area where the girls live.

“Ladies, do you believe that it is the role of government to restrict commerce in this way?” Francone asked the girls as soon as they completed their proposal.

When the girls responded affirmatively, Francone pushed back again.

“On what basis? ‘Cause that’s what your parents are going to ask me,” she said.

Ultimately, though, troop leader Christi Bontempo was grateful for Francone’s questions. Bontempo said the commissioner’s response showed that she took the girls’ proposal seriously and treated them like anyone else who signs up for public comment.

Though Francone thought a targeted educational program might be more appropriate, she was appreciative of the Girl Scout’s effort.

“You’ve obviously done a lot of research, and gosh, thank you for that,” she said. “It’s nice to see that you’d take the time to go through and research and come here today and let us know what you found out.”

Think globally, act locally

After hearing what the Scouts had to say, Commissioner Casey Tighe referenced the phrase “think globally, act locally,” which was first used in the 1960s and ’70s during the environmental movement.

“That’s the only way to make a difference sometimes,” he said. “You’ve got to start in your own community.”

It’s a concept the girls considered, too, as they worked to shape their proposal in a way that would have the most impact. For example, they decided to nix information about plastic’s effect on dolphins since it’s not a problem Colorado faces.

“You have to start small before you go big,” Ella said. “ … It’s like the easiest steps that can make the most change.”

Despite what happens on a county level, the girls are not giving up. They’ve heard from the commissioners, who say they are sending the idea to Jeffco’s sustainability committee for a study. And the Scouts plan to attend Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting with more definitive steps that Jeffco could take should it choose to implement a version of their proposal.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.