Aspen adopts bag ban | AspenTimes.com

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Aspen adopts bag ban

ASPEN – It’s official: Beginning in May, Aspen’s two grocery stores, City Market and Clark’s Market, will not provide plastic bags to shoppers during checkout.The City Council decided in a 4-1 vote Tuesday to pass the ordinance presented by city environmental health specialist Ashley Cantrell. The measure – which faced rejection late in the two-hour discussion, when Mayor Mick Ireland offered an alternative plan to impose a fee on plastic bags for two years before a ban would go into effect- also includes a 20-cent fee on paper bags.When Councilmen Torre and Adam Frisch indicated that they preferred to move forward with the plastic-bag ban and paper-bag fee in lieu of Ireland’s compromise, the mayor and Councilman Steve Skadron decided to join them. Only Councilman Derek Johnson voted against the plan.”I keep hearing from [Aspen residents] that they are more supportive of a ban and less supportive of a fee system,” Torre said a few minutes before the vote. “I feel like we’re playing a little bit of softball with this, and I wish that … we would just take a harder stance on this issue, as we’ve seen other communities do.”Frisch said he didn’t understand why a majority of council members seemed to retreat from a request to the Environmental Health Department last month to retool the measure so that it reflected a ban on plastic bags. For most of the past year, up until a Sept. 12 meeting, the council and city staff appeared to be moving in the direction of a fee on each paper and plastic bag.”To me, a ban is a better wake-up call than throwing [a fee] of a couple cents here and there to get people to make the right decisions,” Frisch said. Johnson said that after wrestling with the proposal of a fee on plastic bags for a while – he even watched the anti-plastic documentary “Bag It” at Torre’s urging – he and his family started changing their shopping habits. Though he supports initiatives to reduce the distribution of single-use plastic bags, Johnson said that in the end he felt as though consumers should have a choice. “The problem I have is that when I started to hear ‘ban,’ I started to think, ‘I don’t have control of this anymore. I’m going to be forced into doing this.’ That took some of the ‘good’ [of the proposal] away for me,” Johnson said. “I want people to have choices. I think we have a greater opportunity to provide a better environmental message … by reducing the bags that we’re using as a community voluntarily.” But at one point during the meeting, Ireland noted that voluntary measures don’t always work. He said plastic-bag bans seem to work well in Europe and there’s no reason why it can’t work in Aspen. “Too often in a public debate we’re told that choice is a substitute for doing the right thing: ‘We don’t have to do the right thing; we just have to give people choices.’ It’s not true. Sometimes we can’t afford to give people choices because they’ll make bad ones,” Ireland said. The overall goal of the ordinance, as Cantrell has said, is to reduce the amount of paper and plastic waste ending up in local landfills. Research shows that only a small percentage of consumers recycle their grocery bags. The city also is striving to set an example of environmental stewardship for other communities that might be considering a fee or a ban on bags.About 15 members of the audience got a chance to weigh in on the proposal, with the vast majority saying that they support a ban on plastic bags as a statement on the need to reduce environmental waste. Aspen resident Karinjo De Vore said that relatively speaking, consumers haven’t been using plastic bags for very long and thus their habits are changeable. “It took me a while, when I first decided I was going to stop using plastic bags. … It’s a little difficult but it’s not that difficult. It’s really doable, and people do it all over the world,” she said. But Tommy Marshall expressed doubt that the measure would have any real effect. He noted that the chairs, microphones and other materials in the council’s meeting room are plastic, as is the artificial turf at Aspen High School’s football stadium. “This smacks of government tax-and-spend,” he said. “It just seems like a big mess. Figure out a better way to recycle. I think that this is a boondoggle.” City Market manager John Hailey also spoke up, saying that his employer supports voluntary efforts and educational approaches toward reducing plastic-bag consumption. He said bag bans and fees result in higher food costs, but that the grocery chain would abide by whatever decision the council made. “What we found is that it does increase the cost of doing business,” he said. “As a general rule, that’s ultimately passed on to the consumer.” The city is planning a detailed outreach campaign to educate consumers about the benefits of a ban on plastic bags. The city hopes to involve local businesses and other organizations in an effort to put environmentally friendly, reusable bags in the hands of locals and visitors.Aspen has been working with other Roaring Fork Valley communities to address shopping-bag waste. The Community Office of Resource Efficiency, a regional agency that promotes environmental initiatives, also has been providing information to valley municipalities about the pros and cons of various aspects of fees and bans.On Sept. 27, the Basalt Town Council voted 6-1 to approve a fee of 20 cents on each plastic and paper bag used at grocery stores beginning in May. Meanwhile, Carbondale’s government has been moving toward a ban on plastic bags and is expected to hold a discussion and final vote on the matter on Oct. 25.In other business:• Political activist Marilyn Marks, who filed a lawsuit against the city over the right to inspect ballot images cast in elections, spoke early in the meeting and derided the council’s decision to appeal her appellate-court victory to the state Supreme Court. “You’re trying to affect the rights [of voters and the press] across the state,” she said. “Your decision that was made in 20 minutes behind closed doors deserves reconsideration in the form of a public-policy debate,” Marks said. “In attempting to strip voters of the rights that they’ve been given in your fight against transparency, you’re really attempting to strip some human rights, I believe, from voters across the state.”Ireland, who defeated Marks in the 2009 mayoral election, defended the council’s decision to appeal the recent Court of Appeals verdict. Marks filed her lawsuit after being denied access to the 2009 election’s ballot images for inspection.Ireland, an attorney, said he could not support the idea “that we should make a legal decision about case law and legal strategy in a public hearing. That, my friends, is crazy. You cannot get through law school thinking that you are going to have your clients meet with [the opposition’s] attorneys in a manner that allows the other side to know the strengths and weaknesses of their case and the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition’s case. That would be malpractice, per se.”• The council approved a contract for $172,850 with Dan’s Water Well & Pump Services Inc. of Livermore, Calif., for a geothermal test well near Herron Park. The city wants to drill 2,000 to 3,000 beneath the earth to test the water for the potential of a future geothermal energy project. The project is expected to start later this month.asalvail@aspentimes.com