Steamboat Resort will no longer sell plastic bottles

Plastic water bottles sit in a pile. l Streetwise Cycle/courtesy photo

Beginning with the 2021-22 season, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. will be eliminating single-use plastic bottles on the mountain.

The move is one of many Ski Corp. has made to increase its sustainability efforts, said Ski Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman.

“The environment is one of our core values,” Perlman said.”It’s really special to us, and I think we’ve made great strides. We’re continuing to push to make sure we’re sustainable and contributing to a better footprint.”

Sarah Jones, Ski Corp. director of sustainability and community engagement, said the approach is two-pronged: Ski Corp. will use reusable products when possible, and when reusable products are not an option, aluminum will be used.

“We wanted to choose something that we could make really good progress on, so we chose single-use plastic drinking containers first,” Jones said.

In the past, the resort sold plastic soda and water bottles, issued reusable plastic cups to customers at soda fountains and served alcohol in plastic cups and bottles. Now, soda fountains will have reusable cups, bottled drinks will be sold in aluminum cans, and stores will sell Vapur pouches, which are a type of reusable water bottle, rather than traditional single-use water bottles.

Jones said the decision to switch to aluminum is primarily because it is more profitable to recycling centers, as its quality does not break down each time it is reused, and it is healthier for the environment because of its infinite shelf life.

“It doesn’t matter how many times you recycle, the quality is the same,” Jones said. “It drives the recycling process.”

In contrast, plastic degrades each time it is recycled. By the time a plastic bottle reaches a store shelf, only about 20% of it is made from recycled materials, with the other 80% coming from newly made plastic due to plastic’s degradation over time. Aluminum cans, on the other hand, usually come from 100% recycled material.

“Plastic degrades the more you recycle it, so eventually, you get to a point where you can no longer recycle it,” said Winn Cowman, waste diversion director at the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “It is harder to recycle, and it’s less recyclable than other materials.”

While Cowman said it would be impossible for a consumer to judge how much of their plastic product comes from recycled material, most plastic can only be recycled three times before it’s reached the end of its life and is thrown into a landfill.

Once plastic is sent to a landfill, it does not break down naturally but, instead, sits for years, sometimes longer, Cowman said.

“When we send those materials to other countries, which is what we did for years, it would end up in waterways because it was sort of out of sight out of mind,” Cowman said. “In those countries, it piles up, and when big rains come, it gets washed up in the rivers and the ocean.”

It eventually breaks down into micro plastics, which end up in soils and oceans and can be detrimental to fish and animals relying on those resources.

“It’s sort of horrifying,” Cowman said. “Plastics never really go away. They kind of stay with us forever.”

While Ski Corp. would not be able to prevent all plastic use on the mountain, Jones said they plan to implement signage and verbal education about discouraging the use of plastic.

“If you have a plastic water bottle, we’re not going to tell you to throw it out, but we ourselves will be talking about it, and we’re definitely raising awareness,” Jones said.

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