Charlie Shew walked into the Environmental Science Center at Fort Lewis College to learn about home-brewing but walked out the plastic bag monster after learning about a city ballot issue.
As a mascot of the Durango Bag-It campaign, the 18-year-old freshman from Decatur, Ga., wears a costume of 430 plastic bags to rally support for a 10-cent fee on disposable bags that is on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The costume is symbolic of what fee supporters want to reduce, because 430 is the average number of plastic bags that the average Durangoan uses in a year, according to city estimates.
Shew has worn the costume on campus and all over town, going to the Durango Farmers Market, a City Council meeting, the Green Business Roundtable and to schools. But Durango School District 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp asked him to leave Needham Elementary School when he showed up Friday.
Looking like a dejected “Sesame Street” character, Shew then marched off campus with some student supporters.
Shew went to the school at the invitation of Needham’s environmental club.
Sheryl Lock, a Needham mom, said she had received school permission but was told Friday that plastic bags were too political.
Popp later released a statement that the school district must “remain nonpartisan.”
“Please note that the policy is to represent both sides of any issue, which means that those who oppose the plastic-bag measure should be able to be represented as well,” Popp said in a statement.
The issue might be divisive with college kids.
David Peters is an opponent of the plastic-bag fee because he regards it as a “tax.” He said he is trying to rally college students against the bag fee.
Peters said he is going to run a newspaper advertisement noting the city is willing to spend money on reusable bags but not on the Buzz Bus, which transports late-night bar patrons home. The Buzz Bus could be eliminated next year in a budget cut.
Shew, however, feels that plastic bags and public transit are two separate issues.
“Sorry, but nice chance,” Shew said in an interview.
Shew said his recycling role models are his mother, Jennifer Stauffer – who is so dedicated that she takes the plastic binding out of paper coffee cups so the rest of the paper cup can then be recycled – and his stepmother, Debbie Shew, who is involved in social justice issues with the Episcopal diocese of Atlanta.
While the costume often feels hot to wear, he said it has been a “cool opportunity.” The ridiculousness of the costume takes the heat out of any discussion on the issue.
Shew is hoping his home brew is finished fermenting in time to celebrate the possible passage of the 10-cent fee Nov. 5.
“That would be awesome if the timing worked out,” Shew said.