Towns likely to team up on bag fees
August 3, 2011
ASPEN – The governments of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale intend to take a coordinated approach on implementing a fee on disposable grocery bags, officials said Wednesday.
The Aspen City Council will consider a bag fee at its Monday, Aug. 22 meeting while the Basalt Town Council and Carbondale Board of Trustees will take up the matter the next evening, according to Nathan Ratledge, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE).
CORE held meetings in July with representatives of the elected boards to see if they were aligned on a proposal.
“Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale are on the same page,” Ratledge said. “They all wanted regional commitment.”
Ratledge said he didn’t feel comfortable speaking for the governments regarding details of their proposed ordinances. He said they are generally moving forward with plans discussed by the Basalt Town Council on June 28.
The majority of the Basalt Town Council informally agreed during that discussion to charge a fee for each plastic and paper bag used by consumers at grocery stores. Some of the revenues will go to the stores for implementing the program. Other revenues will be kept by the municipal government for education about the program and to buy re-useable bags that will be provided to shoppers for free or at low cost.
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At the June meeting, Basalt eyed a 20-cent fee per bag. Basalt Green Team member Tripp Adams said he was told the proposed fee will be cut from 20 to 10 cents. Councilman Pete McBride said the fee will be open to debate by the council, but he thought the various towns were still looking at 20 cents per bag.
Basalt’s Green Team is a committee of residents and council members who advise the broader council on environmental issues. The group urged the council to pass a bag fee ordinance this summer, regardless of whether other towns in the valley pursue it.
“We believe it’s going to go through without much of an issue,” Adams said of the first reading of the bag fee.
Proponents of a bag fee say plastic bags require too many petroleum products to produce. When they are discarded, they slowly break down and can leech chemicals into the environment. The health effects on animals and humans aren’t fully understood yet.
Critics of a fee say it is another case of government intervening where it doesn’t belong. Some local critics have claimed in letters to the editor that they will drive downvalley to grocery shop if Basalt implements a bag fee. The economics don’t make sense. A vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon would spend about $8 to drive from Basalt to Glenwood Springs for a shopping spree.
Adams said the opposition is bluster.
“It’s a very small handful of really loud people that think something is being taken away from them,” Adams said. “Nobody’s taking a choice away. You just have to pay for it.”
Aspen Councilman Torre is eager to move ahead with an ordinance aimed at disposable plastic bags. “I was the one sort of pushing for this for four or five years now,” he said.
He re-ignited the issue earlier this year in Aspen by pushing for a ban on disposable plastic grocery bags. “I really wasn’t in favor of waiting for a coordinated effort,” he said.
He still prefers a “noticed ban” where the city would give advance notice that a ban will take place in six months or a year, he said. He would support a bag fee, initially, as long as the goal is to implement a ban. A fee system in Aspen won’t be an effective deterrent because of all the tourists shopping, he said.
Ashley Cantrell of the Aspen Environmental Health Department is working on Aspen’s proposed ordinance. She didn’t return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment on the details.
If a bag fee is adopted in Basalt, a high-profile, future grocer in the town won’t complain. Whole Foods Market banned plastic bags in spring 2008.
“We’ve never looked back,” said Ben Friedland, marketing coordinator for Whole Foods’ Rocky Mountain Region. “It was very well received [by customers]. There was very little push back.”
Whole Foods Market signed a lease last month to open a 26,000-square-foot store in Willits Town Center in Basalt. It is slated to open in summer 2012.
Whole Foods believes that every time you give people a chance to help the environment, they will take it, Friedland said. The country’s largest organic and natural foods grocer still offers paper bags, but they are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content. The grocer also sells re-useable grocery bags for under $1. Customers who use their own bags are given a 10-cent per bag refund at Whole Foods in the Rocky Mountain Region, he said.
Friedland said he didn’t know how the company would react if Basalt charges a fee on paper bags. Anything that provides a benefit to the environment will be considered, he said.