With bag-fee case done, Aspen eyes more ways to reduce waste
This week’s Colorado Supreme Court decision that the city’s paper-bag fee enforced at Aspen’s two supermarkets is not unconstitutional could mean more municipal efforts to reduce waste.
The legal contest, spurred by a Colorado conservative nonprofit, festered for nearly six years until Monday’s announcement from the high court that the 20-cent surcharge is a fee and not a tax.
It also hamstrung any expansion of the city’s efforts to eliminate waste through fees or other actions.
“Because the city had no way of anticipating what the court would do, we did not make plans in advance of the decision. We were waiting to hear what the court would decide,” said Liz Chapman, the city’s environmental health specialist.
Chapman said it’s too soon to see if the city will expand the plastic-bag ban and paper-bag fee to retailers other than City Market and Clark’s Market. The number of paper bags leaving Aspen retailers in one week doesn’t equal the number of them leaving the two grocers in one day, Chapman said.
For now, the chief priority is to eliminate all use of paper bags at the two Aspen grocers, she said.
“Fifteen percent of people leaving our grocery stores are still making use of disposable bags,” said Chapman, citing a city study of local consumer bag habits. The study was funded by proceeds from the 20-cent fees collected through paper-bag purchases.
Published by the Journal of Sustainability Education in January, the study examined 1,632 people exiting Aspen’s two grocers and found that 45 percent didn’t use any type of bag to carry out their purchases, another 40 percent used reusable bags, and 15 percent paid 20 cents per paper bag. The study also found that at the City Market in El Jebel, which does not have a bag fee, 76.5 percent of the shoppers used a paper bag.
Aspen’s number for paper-bag purchases could be lowered with more outreach, education and an expanded bag bank program, which provides free reusable bags to shoppers at various locations, Chapman said.
Those efforts have been funded through money generated from the bag fees, which had totaled $295,761 since City Council’s waste-reduction ordinance, which was passed in 2011, took effect in May 2012.
In addition to the 20-cent paper-bag fee, the ordinance also eliminated the use of plastic bags at Aspen’s two supermarkets. (Roxy’s Market & Deli, located at the Aspen Business Center, is outside of city limits.)
Ultimately, Chapman said she would like to see the number of paper bags bought from Aspen stores down to zero. That would mean no more money for the city through the program, but it would have achieved its ultimate goal — motivating so many grocery shoppers to use reusable bags that there would be no need for their paper counterparts.
“The ordinance was designed to be self-eliminating,” Chapman said. “The more people bring their own bags, the more successful it is for everyone.”