Whether one is hiking in Zion National Park or sitting on a chairlift at Snowbird Ski Resort, you’re likely to pick up bits and pieces of conversations in foreign languages. People from all over the world come to Utah. They revel in the powder, the red rock, and the canyons. They wade through the Narrows, toting cameras and ogling the shifting colors on the mountains. I remember my childhood best friends flying out from Texas to visit. They sat in my parents’ living room and stared out the windows—riveted—for an entire afternoon. Why? Because you can’t find these sort of scenes just anywhere.
Yet, for all its wonders, Utah has missed a few key opportunities to better guard its natural resources. When it comes to protecting this state for the natural treasure that it is, why have only a handful of Utah cities made it a priority? Specifically, what can Utah to do reduce its plastic waste? If the state followed the example of cities like Park City and Moab, who both instituted a tiny plastic grocery bag tax, it would help to benefit the state both economically and environmentally.
Environmental policies in the state of Utah have historically faced significant partisan hurdles before making any real sort of impact. As seen on the national stage, the environment has sadly devolved into a partisan issue, even though the effects are felt across party lines. It could be said that pollution and waste have no party affiliation. While grappling with its own unique environmental issues, Utah continues to miss several policy opportunities to address and reduce plastic waste.
However, we don’t always need to wait for a top-down approach for solutions. For example, BYU Earth Stewardship Club members Annie Ayre and Maddie Healy recently proposed a bill to Provo City Council, entailing a tax on plastic bags at grocery stores. Their reasoning? Utah churns through 940 million plastic bags a year, but only roughly one-percent of those get recycled. Because plastic bags can only actually be recycled at a grocery story, people rarely dispose of them in the correct way. Even the few plastic bags that make it back to the grocery store might still end up in the landfill (taking anywhere from one hundred to five-thousand years to decompose), because fluctuation in the recycling market means that number four plastics (such as typical grocery bags) are difficult to get rid of. SUVSWD, Rocky Mountain Recycling, and Bayview Landfill spend roughly $1,500,000 a year on maintenance, largely due to the plastic grocery bags in their facilities.
Park City and Moab already have a plastic bag tax, but, unfortunately, a similar bill failed to pass in Provo. The purpose of the ten cent fee would be to incentivize consumers to use reusable bags, effectively cutting down on one-time use paper and plastic ones. Even when people are informed about the backlog of plastic bags, the question remains, why do voters here value plastic grocery bags enough to block that bill?
I don’t anticipate Utah jumping on board with California and eliminating all single-use plastic straws anytime soon, but there’s certainly more we can do to protect our state and its natural wonders. Every modern-day luxury comes with a cost, whether that be constant electricity, running water, or single-use plastic. Please pause and consider where you might make do with a little less or even just use your resources a little smarter. Look for those opportunities to effect change from the bottom up. Join the BYU Earth Stewardship Club (or one of the many other environmentally-minded BYU clubs and organizations), research Save Our Canyons, or email your state congressman. It’s never too late to start or join a positive movement for change. Carrying your groceries from your car to your pantry in a plastic bag isn’t quite worth the environmental and economic toll it takes.