Basalt gives informal nod to 20-cent fee on disposable grocery bags |

Basalt gives informal nod to 20-cent fee on disposable grocery bags

Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA cart is loaded with grocery purchases in plastic bags at City Market in Basalt Tuesday evening. The town is moving toward charging a fee for those single-use bags.

BASALT – Basalt officials decided Tuesday to take the lead in the Roaring Fork Valley to discourage use of disposable grocery bags.

The Basalt Town Council gave an informal nod to the concept of charging a small fee for use of disposable paper and plastic bags in the town’s two grocery stores. A 20-cent per bag fee will be discussed when the council reviews an ordinance later this summer.

Town officials stressed they want to coordinate the bag fee with other towns in the Roaring Fork Valley, but they won’t wait if other governments stall. So they will participate in meetings with elected officials from Aspen and other towns to see if general parameters of an ordinance can be worked out. If the talks don’t materialize or bog down, the Basalt council will consider its own bag fee by the last week of August.

The council was pressed by the town’s Green Team, an environmental board, to implement the fee. Green Team member Tripp Adams said single-use grocery bags consume natural resources that could be saved by promoting reusable bags. Information presented to the council contended that in the U.S. alone, annual production of disposable grocery bags emits almost 4 million tons of “CO2-equivalent.”

Plastic bags also break down into small pieces that enter the food chain and have health effects on animals and humans that aren’t fully known yet.

“We want to see people be more environmentally responsible and not be wasteful,” Adams told the council in a work session Tuesday night.

Green Team member Gerry Terwilliger said most Green Team members want Basalt to proceed on its own rather than wait for a coordinated, regional approach.

“If we go ahead, we would be followed very quickly,” he said.

Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux warned that Basalt could pay consequences by implementing a bag fee on its own. He said some midvalley residents have warned him they will shop in other towns if Basalt implements a bag fee at its grocery stores.

When it was noted that 20 cents per bag will hardly cause financial hardship for shoppers, Duroux said it is a philosophical issue for some people. They adamantly don’t want the government telling them whether or not to use plastic bags.

“It appears to me that we’re the Lone Ranger in the crowd,” Duroux said, adding that the town cannot risk any loss of sales tax revenues at this time.

Adams countered that he cannot believe there are a significant number of people who would be “narrow-minded” enough to travel to Glenwood Springs or Carbondale to shop if there were no bag fees there.

“Somebody needs to take the lead,” Adams said. “You can’t sit back and hope that Glenwood Springs is going to jump on the band wagon right off the bat.”

Audience member Bob Daniel encouraged the council to take action rather than wait to see what other governments will do. He said a bag fee would force him to “change my behavior” and carry reusable bags. He wouldn’t be adverse to the change, he said, since there is an environmental benefit.

Ashley Cantrell, environmental health specialist with the city of Aspen, urged the council to give the regional approach a try. She said the Aspen City Council has considered the bag fee for about a year and might be receptive to a coordinated effort. If officials from the two towns and others meet, they might find common ground on many aspects of an ordinance, then move forward at the same time, she said.

The Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) is trying to organize a meeting in mid-July among elected officials from interested towns in the Roaring Fork Valley. Basalt’s council agreed to give that meeting a chance, but be prepared to advance on its own in August if the regional approach isn’t happening.

If a bag fee is approved, Basalt intends to give grocery stores up to six months to implement it. Many of the details would have to be hammered out in public meetings. A big campaign to educate shoppers on why disposable bags were being targeted would be part of the effort. The town would also use revenues from the fee to help supply reusable bags.

“I think the more carroty it can look” the better, said Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt.

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