Aspen council moves toward ban on bags
September 13, 2011
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council reversed its recent course Monday night after a majority of its members said they favored a total ban on plastic bags provided at grocery stores rather than a 20-cent-per-bag fee.
Councilmen Torre, Adam Frisch and Steve Skadron indicated that they wanted a stronger measure than the one the city has been steering toward over the last several months. Councilmen Derek Johnson and Mayor Mick Ireland initially said they were more willing to support the ordinance calling for a fee on all bags provided to shoppers by Aspen’s two local grocery stores, Clark’s and City Market; but Ireland later said if the council wanted to discuss the matter further then he was willing to postpone a decision.
“The more information you give me, the more I wonder why we’re not doing a ban,” Torre said after Ashley Cantrell, city environmental health specialist, listed the basic details of the ordinance and provided answers to questions that council raised last month.
Torre said he was disappointed that the bag-fee ordinance didn’t include a time line for moving toward a ban on plastic bags not just at grocery stores, but other retail outlets. He suggested that the city should cast a wider net to set an example of environmental stewardship with the forced reduction of plastic bags.
Frisch spoke more directly. “Why don’t we just get to the ban now if that’s what we want to do,” he said. “I want to go for it all right away if that’s what we want to talk about.”
The town of Telluride came up as one Colorado city that has moved toward a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags. In the Roaring Fork Valley, Basalt and Carbondale also are considering fees on grocery bags after working with Aspen and the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) to form a regional goal.
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Ireland said though he was willing to discuss a ban, he wanted to go ahead with the fee plan partly because that’s what Aspen and its municipal neighbors have been working on during much of the spring and summer.
“We made a commitment to a couple of downvalley partners that we would do a fee,” he said. “This is not an accident; council directed staff to create this in conjunction with other partners downvalley. This is not about us being number one, this is about us cooperating with other jurisdictions and having something that works together.
“Now we’re gonna throw them under the bus and say, ‘We didn’t really mean that. Thanks for the time, but we have a better idea.’ I don’t like that,” the mayor added.
But in his earlier remarks, Torre said Aspen should set the policy it feels is right, regardless of what’s being done elsewhere.
“I think we could be bolder leaders,” he said.
Cantrell said her department could do more research on an outright ban on plastic or both paper and plastic bags and return with more information. Council members will review the issue at their Oct. 11 meeting.
She and CORE director Nathan Ratledge said a lot of decisions will have to be made before proceeding with a ban. Programs that implement a ban on plastic but a fee on paper differ sharply from those that ban both, they said, and there are underlying issues associated with each.
A fee on paper bags, with a ban on plastic, could create hardships on grocers who would be forced to supply more paper bags to shoppers, Cantrell noted.
Johnson said he wouldn’t support a total ban on bags at grocery stores because he believes it would create a hardship on visitors. He said the retail industry is likely headed toward some sort of solution to providing plastic bags on its own.
He also agreed with Ireland about the fact that Aspen was working toward a valleywide approach by implementing fees. Johnson said he would favor talking about a ban if it were deemed in future years that the fee was not a deterrent to shoppers using plastic bags.
Skadron said one of his primary issues with the fee approach was that it would create a huge revenue stream for the city, which would keep 95 percent of the revenue, giving the department a pool of money some might consider a windfall.
In the ordinance, grocers would have been allowed to keep 5 percent, up to $1,000 per month, during the first year in order to cover costs of the program. Cantrell estimated that the revenue from the bag fee would have generated up to $240,000 annually, money the city intended to use for waste-reduction programs.