Basalt grocery bag fee faces greater scrutiny
December 14, 2011
BASALT – Basalt’s decision to charge a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic grocery bags might not survive long enough to be implemented in May – but it’s unclear if regulations will get tougher or weaker.
Two members of the Basalt Town Council indicated Tuesday night that they favor rescinding the fee on plastic bags and replacing it with a ban.
Meanwhile, a resident is forging ahead with a petition that could force a town election on the issue and send a message to the council to quit pondering any type of regulation on grocery bags.
The council voted 6-1 in September to charge the fee on paper and plastic bags. Since then, elected officials in Aspen and Carbondale have voted to ban plastic grocery bags and charge a fee for paper grocery bags.
Basalt Councilman Pete McBride asked that the issue be reconsidered to see if the town wants to rewrite its regulations to be consistent with its neighbors. McBride was absent from Tuesday’s meeting but councilwomen Anne Freedman and Katie Schwoerer expressed support for rescinding the plastic bag fee and replacing it with a ban.
“I’m in favor of changing this at this point,” Freedman said. She explained that the ban on plastic bags will eliminate the accusation that the government is taking the action to make “huge amounts of money.” That charge is false, Freedman said. The money collected would be plowed back into education, implementing the program and providing reusable bags.
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It is unclear if there is enough support on the council to ban plastic grocery bag use. Karin Teague, another council member who pushed hard for regulation, also was absent Tuesday night.
Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, who pushed for a ban rather than a fee in September, said Tuesday that she needs more information on the issue. One of the criticisms she said she hears about the regulation is that the use of plastic bags isn’t one that really affects the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I would really like to have a deeper understanding of the toxicity of the bags – or not,” Whitsitt said. She noted that many people reuse the bags for garbage and pet waste, and the bags end up in the landfill. She wants an assessment on whether that affects the environment, and how.
“I’d just like to have a little more schmeat on this,” Whitsitt said.
Nathan Ratledge, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, said he will get the council that information. He said his understanding is the plastic breaks down into minuscule particles over time and affects the ecosystem. Critics of plastic bags also say the carbon footprint to manufacture the petroleum-based products is too high, especially since many bags get thrown away after a single use.
Councilman Glenn Rappaport said he thought Basalt should have waited to see how the Aspen council voted on the grocery bag issue before it took action. That didn’t happen, he said, and now he wants to see how a couple of issues unfold before Basalt takes any further action. First, he said, he wants to see how the “market” reacts to the issue.
“I’m always cautious about government stepping into these issues,” he said.
Second, he said he would welcome a town vote on the issue.
That could happen in Basalt’s next regularly scheduled election in April. Roy Chorbajian is collecting signatures for a petition that would force the bag fee to the ballot. Chorbajian told the council Tuesday night that he has personally collected 375 signatures and that allies have collected more. He needs 231 signatures of Basalt voters for the petition to be valid.
The petition has to be turned in by Jan. 19 to force a question onto the April ballot.
Chorbajian urged the council to get out and talk to constituents about the issue. People don’t see the need for regulations on use of grocery bags, he said.
“They’re not throwing them in the river. They’re not throwing them out the door. They’re reusing them,” Chorbajian said.
He said he understands the need to recycle and reduce waste, and he believes he is a good steward of the environment.
“I’m not a dirtbag,” Chorbajian said. “I’ll match my environmental footprint to anybody in the room.”
But what pressed his buttons, he said, is government overregulation. Any time there is a perceived problem, government rushes to pass a law.
“It’s like saying we’ve got a riot in L.A., we need a curfew in Basalt,” Chorbajian said.
The town staff will bring the issue back to the council for further debate on Jan. 24.