To bag paper and plastic, Aspen considers fee |

To bag paper and plastic, Aspen considers fee

ASPEN ” Aspen officials are moving forward with plans to charge a fee to consumers who use paper and plastic bags at grocery stores.

The Aspen City Council on Tuesday signed off on a proposal from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) to charge between 5 and 25 cents per bag.

Many details of the proposal still need to be hashed out and CORE officials will pursue Mayor Mick Ireland’s suggestion that the concept should be floated past voters on ballots in municipalities valleywide, all at once.

“It would be good to have a model ordinance,” that other cities could follow, Ireland said.

CORE representative Nathan Ratledge said he will draft a plan and bring it back to the council for approval. The idea is to get consumers to use reusable bags, and while efforts have been made locally, a voluntary program isn’t enough, he said.

“The goal is not to create a burden but just enough incentive to change habits and we are looking for government support to change that habit,” Ratledge told the council during a work session on the issue.

The fee would likely be imposed at high volume stores and possibly some retailers. Ireland suggested the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the retail community and other sectors that would be affected be brought into the discussion and help create the legislation.

“People don’t like to be surprised,” Ireland said. “We don’t want them coming in and saying, ‘You didn’t think this through.'”

Councilwoman Jackie Kasabach said because of the large tourist base here, the lodging association also should be included.

Aspen would not be the first community to adopt such a measure. Ratledge cited a similar measure in Ireland as a good example of how an “advanced recovery fee” on single-use shopping bags has been effective. In 2002, the nation passed a 15 euro fee called the “PlasTax” on all No. 2 plastic bags.

The fee, coupled with an educational campaign, made carrying plastic bags in Ireland socially unacceptable ” on par with wearing fur or not cleaning up after your dog. Within five months of the fee mandate, the PlasTax resulted in a 90 percent decrease in plastic bag use, Ratledge said.

Revenue from the fee could be collected by the city, retailers or both to fund green projects and events in Aspen. Money also could be used to purchase reusable bags that could be offered at stores for sale to customers.

Ratledge said incentivizing people to stop using plastic bags is one small step in creating a cultural shift in how people consume and act environmentally responsibly.

The environmental impact from single-use shopping bags is far-reaching, according to CORE. The production and disposal of bags has adverse effects on human health, climate change, resource consumption, terrestrial and marine ecosystems and solid waste management.

According to CORE, each plastic shopping bag requires .005 gallons of oil to produce. At a consumption rate of 100 billion a year, the United States uses 12 million barrels of oil annually for its plastic bag habit.

Locally, plastic bags clog storm water drains and pollute the Roaring Fork River, among other environmental consequences.

Area grocery stores support a plastic bag fee, Ratledge said. City Market already offers a 5 cent credit for those who don’t use plastic sacks, and signs are posted in the stores asking customers if they remembered their reusable bags.

Aspenites have been exposed to the effort already. Last year, CORE initiated a contest between Aspen and Telluride to see which town could replace more plastic bags with reusable ones. That contest this year has grown to include 26 mountain towns.

Last summer, Aspen and Telluride held the contest between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The two towns eliminated the use of an estimated 140,359 single-use shopping bags between May and September ” or 284 bags per store per day.

With the help of CORE, Aspen High School’s Earth Club has created reusable bags and are being used by many residents. Beginning March 1, the club will begin stocking several local hotels with reusable bags they have designed themselves. The bags will be provided to guests for use on their shopping trips. Guests will have the option of leaving the bag for other guests, or they can purchase them.

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