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Hailey could be an Idaho role model in banning plastic grocery bags

Lex Shapiro

The Wood River High School Environmental Club has been working for the past nine months on an ordinance that would ban the distribution of plastic grocery bags in Hailey.

We initially recognized a problem when we began noticing the littered plastic in our own community. After determining that plastic bags were a nuisance we began researching the harmful effects of single use plastic. The facts blew us away; 60,000 plastic bags are used in one second! From that point on the problems associated with the throw-away culture that our valley, like the rest of the world, has adopted were painfully obvious. Our proposal has made us the first town in Idaho to jump on the ban-the-bag bandwagon, and by doing this we are setting ourselves as role models.

Maggie Williams

In the early stages of our proposal, we were met with little opposition. People saw that we were high school students and immediately deemed the proposal as “cute” and were eager to give their congenial stamp of approval. We soon realized that people were not taking us as seriously as we would have hoped. However, this early support was crucial in our process because it gave many of us confidence which helped us find our voices. We soon found that this slow-moving beginning wouldn’t last and that’s when the hard work began.

So, with our newly found voices, we decided to take the next step. The club decided to follow a model set by Telluride, Colo., because Hailey and Telluride have many similar characteristics. Our initial proposal included a ban on plastic bags as well as a tax on paper bags. The idea was that we would eliminate the use of plastic bags as well as greatly reduce the use of paper bags and the tax would help our local recycling programs become more advanced.

Chase England

Our initial proposal was met with almost unanimous resistance. People, understandably, put up a wall when they heard the word tax. We soon realized that the idea of a tax was making Hailey citizens highly uncomfortable. So, we decided to compromise, choosing to continue the proposed ban on the plastic bags while paper bags would remain “free.” However, we included that the paper bags had to be made of at least 40% post-consumer material.

Conveniently, the major grocers in our town already offered bags with this level of recycled content. So, with the help of city officials, we drafted our new ordinance. We presented a number of times in front of our local city government and the two local business guilds. As we continued to spread the awareness of our proposal, we began to run into some obstacles. Our city’s government made us take every little step to get our proposal on the ballot. However daunting, the countless obstacles our government placed before us, and our refusal to give up despite these challenges, built our commitment to our proposal and increased our credibility.

One challenge that has reared its ugly head is from a corporation, Hilex Poly. They are know for their legal battles all across the country, and now they have their eyes on us, a group of 20 high school students trying to make an environmental friendly change in our small community. Their persistence is backed up with millions of dollars, yet little factual information that makes plastic bags acceptable. It’s like the story of David and Goliath, Hilex Poly playing the role of the giant, and us the brave warrior. We hope to see similar results where the underdog wins the feud.

Throughout the long battle over the plastic bag in Hailey, our view on the bags and unnecessary single-use plastics as a whole has remained unswayed. We are willing to take great strides and any necessary action to protect our environment. We believe that plastic bags pose a serious and unnecessary risk to the world.

It should be obvious to anyone that a bag that you are planning on using for a short period of time should not last forever. Such is the case with these wind-blown, buoyant, and everlasting bags. If everyone knew that in one year, they themselves use 500 plastic bags, their opinion and awareness of the subject would change. Even though we’re a small high school club, we believe that we can make a difference, and that’s why we are committed to our environment, and making this change.

As we students attempt to clean up the world we will inherit, a quote from Mahatma Gandhi has stuck in our minds, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So make a difference and vote YES to banning plastic bags.

About Wood River High School Environmental Club


  1. Go Wood River High! We are trying to get kids in Southern California to create initiatives just like this. I am really excited to hear Hailey is at the forefront in Idaho.

  2. While I am usually quite skeptical of enviromentalists and their often anti-business agenda, I am also a strong conservationist myself, and greatly value the beauty of nature and everything is has to offer. Certainly there must be a balance between our civilization and the preservation of our planet, and that balance is not always easy to strike. What I llike about the approach Wood River High is taking here is its essential “free market” and democratic aspects. The students are simply using the power of the ballot box–small town democracy at its finest–in order to effectively get the entire town to use its spending power to support recycled content paper and reject plastic. Certainly Hilex Poly has every right and reason to lobby against this action, and they may well have a case, but frankly I don’t see it here. Yes, jobs are important, but jobs are also fluid–fewer jobs making (bad) poly bags shoudl tranlsate into more jobs making (good) recycled paper. Or so pure economics would argue. I know this is cold comfort to the displaced workers, but, alas, that is the way with capitaliism–something I myself have experienced numerous times.