City of Aspen to reinstate single-use bag fee after break because of COVID concerns |

City of Aspen to reinstate single-use bag fee after break because of COVID concerns

Julia Hrabovsky, center, hands her reusable bag to Clark’s employee Elissa Leighgon while checking out at the grocery story in Aspen on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen is reinstituting its 20-cent single-use bag fee at grocery stores after suspending the program in April as a precautionary measure due to concerns of COVID-19 transmission on surfaces.

At the outset of the pandemic, it was thought that bringing reusable bags into the grocery store could transmit the virus so the city allowed customers to use paper bags with no fee.

Grocery store chains also enacted rules that had customers bagging their own goods when they were using reusable bags.

But science now shows that reusable bags do not pose a significant risk to public safety and are not known to be vectors for transmitting COVID-19, according to Liz Chapman, the city’s senior environmental health specialist.

As a result, several states and municipalities have re-implemented their policies encouraging reusable bags.

In a memo to Aspen City Council, Chapman cited a June article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that supports the use of reusable bags during the pandemic.

“In grocery stores, we postulate that human-to-human contact (e.g., respiratory aerosols or skin to skin contact) or contact with recently contaminated surfaces (e.g., door handles, bathroom fixtures, packaging, grocery cart/baskets, currency and payment keypads) would be more dominant SARS-CoV-2 vectors than infrequently handled reusable bags.”

Clark’s Market is now allowing staff to place groceries in reusable bags, and City Market in Aspen is waiting for direction from their corporate office before making a policy change, Chapman said.

“City Market customers are welcome to bring their own reusable bags, however, with the safety of our customers and associates we ask that the customer bag their own groceries if they wish to use a reusable grocery bag,” said Jessica Trowbridge, a spokesperson for the grocery store chain.

The city’s single-use bag fee fund has seen a roughly 40% drop this year over 2019.

Chapman expects once the fee is reinstated, which will be Dec. 1, the level of the fund will return to normal in 2021.

The bag fee, which was instituted in 2012, has generated an average of about $50,000 a year.

“The primary use of funds has been to distribute reusable bags to the community,” Chapman said in an email. “This includes the cost of the bags and the labor to distribute them.

“We have been stocking over a dozen ‘bag banks’ throughout town every week (pre-COVID-19), plus working with local hotels and the ACRA visitor booths to get reusable bags to visitors.”

That activity accounts for about $30,000 a year.

The second use of funds has been to pay for the annual electronics waste event, which costs between $12,000 and $15,000.

There also have been some funds applied to supply residents with reusable items, periodically.

This includes reusable facemasks, lunch bags, produce bags, coffee mugs, drink ware and cutlery, according to Chapman.

The city also has spent about $1,000 for indoor compost collection containers.