John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

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June 3, 2011
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Carbondale trustees open to grocery bag fee

CARBONDALE - Carbondale trustees may be inclined to join their counterparts in Basalt and Aspen in support of a possible fee, rather than an outright ban, on disposable plastic and paper shopping bags.

But the board also tended to agree with Community Office for Resource Efficiency advisors who believe a more regional approach to the issue may be best.

"One of the things we talked about with the Carbondale board and that has been evolving in our discussions is that this really lends itself to a regional collaboration," said Jason Haber, energy program manager for CORE.

"There may be tweaks to fit the needs of each community," he said. "But it's important to have a consistent approach throughout the valley, so shoppers aren't confused and so you're not creating competitive advantages and disadvantages between communities."

It's an approach that could extend to other waste management and energy efficiency concerns as well, Haber said.

Recently, representatives from Aspen to Carbondale have been meeting to discuss a valleywide "Waste-Free Roaring Fork" initiative.

So far, the talks have involved Aspen City Council and two citizen advisory boards, the Basalt Green Team and the Carbondale Environmental Board.

"It was envisioned that this brand could serve as an umbrella program, under which we could collaboratively pursue several waste-focused efforts," according to a May 31 memo from CORE and Carbondale's Environmental Board to the Carbondale trustees.

The main concern with plastic and paper shopping bags revolves around the fact that the bags eventually end up either in the landfill or as litter, and the energy it takes to produce the endless stream of bags.

According to statistics provided by CORE, in the United States alone, annual production of disposable grocery bags emits nearly 4 million tons of carbon monoxide equivalent into the atmosphere. An estimated 4 billion plastic bags worldwide also end up as litter, which can be a major threat to wildlife, including sea animals.

Instead of a ban on disposable plastic and paper bags, though, Carbondale trustees agreed that a fee of between 10 cents and 25 cents per bag could serve as a disincentive to using the bags and to promote reusable bags instead.

The fee could be imposed on grocery store bags only, or include other retailers who provide disposable bags for their customers. Revenue from the fee could be used to fund waste reduction programs and provide free reusable bags to customers, Haber explained.

"This approach not only reduces paper and plastic bag use in Carbondale, but also provides a funding source that can be used to provide resources to the community to eliminate any burden caused by the fee," according to the proposal outlined in the memo.

"We have worked to bring the retail community into the conversation as well, to get their issues and concerns on the table," Haber said.

Some Carbondale trustees suggested at the May 31 town board meeting that a bag fee is a good start, but that an eventual ban could also be considered, at least on plastic bags.

Mayor Stacey Bernot supported the idea of a fee, but said an exception may need to be made during hunting season when groups of hunters come in from out of town and buy large quantities of groceries. A bag fee could drive away business, she said.

Haber said similar concerns were raised in Aspen related to ski season visitors.

He said he has also had informal conversations with Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel about bringing the bag fee issue before the Glenwood City Council.

"Glenwood also has a unique situation with the national retailers at the Meadows, and the scale of stores you're dealing with," Haber said. "But it is an issue that's worth talking about, and seeing if we can make it work there as well."

Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen are expected to consider bag fee ordinances later this summer.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 3, 2011 07:05AM Published Jun 3, 2011 06:32AM Copyright 2011 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.