The city of Aspen has collected $44,826 in fees associated with its plastic-bag-ban program since it was implemented in May 2012. Approximately $20,000 of that has been used to pay for public outreach and implementation.
The ordinance implemented a 20-cent fee for every paper bag distributed at grocery-store checkouts.
Aspen City Council members were given their first update on the program at Tuesday’s work session. Ashley Perl, of the Department of Environmental Health and Sustainability, said there is concern that Aspen’s two grocers — City Market and Clark’s Market — have not been fully compliant in assessing the fee. She said the “fudging room” on the bag fee was expected and that city staff has proposed an audit of the two grocers to gauge compliance.
Council member Dwayne Romero said he favors public outreach and education over an audit. Councilman Adam Frisch agreed, saying the bag fee is “not a huge issue,” but he’d like to see some outreach and increased signage at the local grocers.
Romero suggested partnering with local lodges to provide Aspen’s visitors with reusable bags when they arrive in town. He said it might be a good way to get people to catch on, making reusable bags second nature.
Mayor Steve Skadron praised the program, explaining that being seen with your reusable grocery bags in Aspen is “the cool thing.” He also gave a nod to former council member Torre for being a catalyst for the ban.
The ban has not come without backlash. In August 2012, a Boulder-based taxpayer-advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the city of Aspen, Mayor Mick Ireland and four councilmen over the fee.
The nonprofit Colorado Union of Taxpayers asked Pitkin County District Court to rule that the fee is unconstitutional because city voters weren’t given the opportunity to decide the issue. The case is pending.
Since 2008, the city has employed various voluntary programs — including a contest with Telluride — to reduce the use of single-use paper and plastic bags. These programs resulted in only a small increase in the use of reusable bags.
According to a memo to the City Council, during busy summer and winter months, grocers distribute between 20,000 and 30,000 paper bags per month. Grocers are permitted to keep as much as $100 per month of fees to fund program costs. For the first year, that amount was $1,000 per month. Funds collected from the program can only be used to provide reusable bags and education to the public, administration of the program or specific waste-reduction projects such as plastic bag recycling.