Students try to ban plastic bags in Hailey, Idaho; town says no
High school students in Hailey, Idaho, lost their bid to ban plastic grocery bags, but say they aren't giving up. The ballot measure, promoted by the Wood River High School Environment Club, gained only 620 votes in Tuesday's voting; 864 residents voted against the proposed ban.
"Even though this is a disappointing loss, we're going to try to keep our heads up, and maybe go directly up to Ketchum, and try to do it there," high school junior Lex Shapiro told The Times.
The student-led ballot initiative met with big-spending resistance from the plastic bag industry, notably Hilex Poly, which operates a plastic bag recycling and manufacturing plant in nearby Jerome. The company, which has waged similar fights around the country, launched a local "Bag the Ban" website, hired a lobbying firm and took out television, radio and newspaper advertisements, warning that 125 jobs at the Jerome plant could be jeopardized if the ban were adopted.
Hilex Poly vice president Mark Daniels said the company "applauded" voters and remained committed to working with Hailey residents to increase recycling.
"Americans are struggling. They have the wisdom to see beyond misinformation and understand the harmful effect banning or taxing bags has on jobs and on the local economy," Daniels said in a statement.
Opponents of the proposed ban had also included the local Idaho Mountain Express, which argued that eliminating plastic bags could raise grocery prices and lead to even bigger landfill problems with paper bags.
"Plastic bags are the tip of an environmental iceberg that will require far more than a feel-good ban on bags to avoid," the newspaper said.
Students responded with their own low-budget campaign, including an opinion piece in the Idaho Business Review.
"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," they wrote, comparing their battle with Hilex Poly to "the story of David and Goliath."
The 42% vote they got in Hailey, students admit, was discouraging. "I feel like we did pretty much everything in our power that we could have done. We took all our weekends, spent all our after-school time," Shapiro said.
But they wonder: What if they had gotten an earlier start? In nearby Ketchum, Shapiro said, "we already have a bunch of supporters," and one grocery store there is already bag-free. "So that's a head start.... We just need more time to educate people and get it out there."
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: Hailey, Idaho, where voters rejected a student-proposed ban on plastic bags. Credit: Hailey Chamber of Commerce