Glenwood won’t join bag campaign | AspenTimes.com

Glenwood won’t join bag campaign

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – This city will not be joining others in the Roaring Fork Valley in imposing a ban on disposable bags used at local grocery stores, or charging a fee for customers who take their groceries home in those bags.

At least not now.

“I don’t think it’s government’s place,” said City Council member Todd Leahy, “and I have a real problem singling out grocery stores.”

The Glenwood Spring City Council on Thursday declined to get involved in the effort to limit the use of paper or plastic bags, which reportedly is about to start in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale.

The item arose from an informational presentation by Nathan Ratledge, director of the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE), about the use of disposable plastic and paper bags for retail customers.

Ratledge told the council members that the cities of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale are poised to begin charging what he called an “impact fee” of 10 cents or 20 cents per bag at the checkout of local grocery stores.

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He cited a report by CORE, written in 2009 for the city of Aspen, that detailed environmental and financial problems associated with the use of disposable bags.

Paper grocery bags have been in use for more than a century, while plastic disposable bags gained widespread use in the 1970s and now comprise 80 percent of the disposable bag market.

Ratledge reported that the average American uses 400 plastic bags per year. In Glenwood Springs, that would amount to more than a million bags a year. In the U.S., it is estimated that at least 100 billion of the plastic bags were being used per year, according to a study in 2004.

Nationally, Ratledge said, it takes 12 million barrels of oil each year to make the bags, at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars annually.

Locally, he said, the valley’s major grocery stores seem to be okay with the idea.

In fact, he said, WalMart already has set an internal corporate goal of reducing its use of plastic bags by one third by the year 2013.

Leahy said if Glenwood Springs were to get involved and a grocery store were to charge him 20 cents per bag for, say, 10 bags of groceries, “To me, the city just taxed me $2 for the right to eat.”

Council Member Leo McKinney countered that it is not a tax, it is a fee assessed on consumers who choose to have their groceries bagged in paper or plastic rather than in a cloth, reusable bag.

“I know, but it’s my choice, not something this body can do,” said Leahy, referring to city council action.

McKinney, arguing that the U.S. is “very much a throwaway culture,” said ideas such as the fee program would be “helping to change the culture,” and felt the city would benefit from joining with the other towns to get a fee-for-bags program started.

His view was supported by Councilman Steve Bershenyi, who criticized the council’s “big philosophical reluctance” to get involved.

“It just boggles my mind,” Bershenyi said, calling a bag fee “the least burden you could ever impose on anyone.”

An opponent of the idea, Councilman Mike Gamba, said the whole program is unnecessary because consumers generally reuse their plastic bags already, whether to pick up dog waste in a park or to line their trash cans at home.

“I don’t know any people that use them once,” he said.

“I think this is a solution looking for a problem. I am adamantly opposed to it,” he said later in the discussion.

Mayor Matthew Steckler said the concept has merit, but worried that it might not work well in Glenwood Springs due to the relatively small population of the town.

He also was concerned that city personnel and resources would be needed to run any fee program, in a time when the city’s resources already are strained by budget cutbacks.

Ratledge agreed to meet with the council again after the program has been under way in the three upvalley towns to present a report on how it is working out.

jcolson@postindependent.com

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