Environment Colorado
Aspen Daily News

Plastic bags to be banned at Aspen grocery stores

New law to take effect this spring
Carolyn Sackariason

Aspen City Council on Tuesday voted 4 to 1 to ban plastic bags from the two grocery stores in town and place a 20-cent fee on paper bags.

The new law will take effect May 1.

Councilman Derek Johnson was the lone dissenter, saying that while he supports reducing waste, the ban doesn’t give people a choice and it could cost the city money to implement.

“I think we can do better,” he said.

In a Sept. 13 hearing on the issue, Johnson argued a ban would be too onerous on out-of-town tourists unfamiliar with the law.

The council has been talking about either a ban or a fee on plastic bags for the past two years. It was only a couple of weeks ago that a proposed 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags morphed into a possible ban.

That was after three council members voiced support for a ban. From there, environmental officials in City Hall were instructed to work on a stronger law, which was presented Tuesday night.

But during the initial round of council comments Tuesday, Councilman Steve Skadron opposed the outright ban, suggesting that it was only a “feel good measure,” and did little to cause change or be effective in the long run.

As an alternative, he suggested either going back to the 20-cent fee for plastic and paper bags, or institute an educational effort similar to the 1971 “Keep America Beautiful” campaign that depicted a crying Indian with the underlying theme of “People start pollution. People can stop it.” The campaign centered on littering, and was hugely successful. Skadron suggested that a similar campaign on plastic bags could be just as effective.

However, once he realized that there wasn’t a clear majority on council and the issue could be kicked further down the road with no decision, he quickly supported the ordinance as presented.

He was joined by councilmen Torre and Adam Frisch, as well as Mayor Mick Ireland, who had earlier in the meeting offered a compromise that involved placing a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags for two years before the ban would take effect. Johnson supported Ireland’s motion.

But it didn’t sit well with Torre, who has been a staunch supporter of a ban but had been acquiescing to a fee just to get movement on the controversial issue.

Frisch also didn’t support Ireland’s motion. In earlier public meetings, he said he preferred a ban over a fee. He noted that hundreds of governments around the world have already implemented a plastic bag ban, including the countries of Bangladesh and Rwanda.

“The list of countries and cities that have done this is sobering,” he said. “I don’t want to be behind them.”

Frisch added that the plastic bag ban with a 20-cent fee on paper was a “nice sweet spot.”

Torre said the last three experiences he’s had with plastic bags involved plucking them out of rivers throughout the valley. He added that his goal was not to deprive people of carrying their groceries out of the store but to force the hand of plastic bag manufacturers to give consumers an alternative, such as a biodegradable product.

John Hailey, manager of the City Market in Aspen, testified before council that the grocery store, owned by the Kroger chain along with King Soopers on the Front Range, preferred an educational approach in an attempt to wipe out the single-use bag.

“We are an advocate for our customers,” he said, adding that imposing a fee during difficult economic times is bad timing. “They don’t want to be charged.”

Hailey added that the costs associated with having to supply additional paper bags, which are more expensive, could be passed onto customers. Other costs associated with the ban include updating check-out software and training employees, he said.

“It does increase the cost of doing business,” he said in response to council members’ questions. “There is a chance ultimately that your groceries are going to go up.”

Torre responded by saying that customers already are paying for the cost of plastic bags because it’s built into the pricing of groceries.

He added that when the proposed fee was being discussed, he felt he had cooperation with Denver-based City Market/King Soopers public affairs director Kelli McGannon. Once the proposed law went towards a ban, she stopped returning his phone calls, Torre said.

Hailey, who has a regular presence at City Market and is known for mingling with customers, said ultimately the store would support whatever the council decided.

Torre added that the higher-ups in King Soopers should be following Hailey’s lead on how to conduct business within a small community.

The paper bag fees are expected to generate between $33,000 and $170,000 in revenue, depending on how many people end up buying them. City Market and Clark’s Market will keep up to $1,000 a month to cover the costs of implementing the ban and fee program, or 25 percent of the fees collected. Net revenue to the city is then between $25,000 and $145,000. The money will be used to purchase and give away reusable bags and create an educational campaign.

City environmental officials estimate that it will cost $37,640 to implement the ban and fee program and an additional $5,520 in staff time.

Over a dozen area residents spoke on the issue, mostly in favor of the ban with a fee on paper bags. A few were opposed, saying it might be more hassle than it’s worth and wreaks of government intrusion.

Aspen’s plastic bag ban is part of a regional effort. The Basalt Town Council last month passed a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic bags, which will go into effect on May 1. However, city officials said Basalt elected officials indicated they would consider an outright ban if Aspen passed one. Carbondale also has showed support for a ban, and officials in Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs also are considering the issue.

The ban is to encourage residents to bring their own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. The city has tried educational efforts over the last few years that have been ineffective in reducing consumption. City officials are hoping the ban and fee will reduce single-use bag consumption by between 50 and 80 percent.

Telluride has a similar program, with an outright ban on plastic and a 10-cent fee on paper. At least 20 nations have instituted outright plastic bag bans. Over 80 national and local governments have taken action to reduce single-use bags, according to city officials. In California, 13 city and county governments have enacted some sort of bag ban, including San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, unincorporated Los Angeles County and unincorporated Marin County, meaning about 10 percent of the Golden State’s population lives under some form of bag regulation, according to a report cited by city officials.