Vote on Aspen plastic-bag ban likely at Oct. 10 meeting
September 14, 2011
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Oct. 10 is likely to take up the issue of an outright ban on plastic bags provided to shoppers by the city’s two grocery stores.
The council was set to vote Monday night on an ordinance placing a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags for customers at checkout as a way of encouraging residents and visitors to bring their own reusable bags to the stores. But in a surprise move – following several months of work by city Environmental Health Department staff on a fee ordinance – three council members expressed their desire for an outright ban, changing the city’s game plan.
Environmental health specialist Ashley Cantrell said Tuesday that the ordinance will have to be retooled, and that her department likely will recommend a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags. She said she is comfortable with the change in direction.
The Environmental Health Department also will present other alternatives, such as an outright ban on both paper and plastic, at the October meeting, she said. But the plastic ban and fee for paper probably is more realistic and doable.
Some extra research will be involved, she said, and the city will have to discuss the matter with its municipal neighbors downvalley in the hope of carving out a regional initiative. Like the city of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale’s governments have been driving toward a fee on grocery bags, not a ban.
Though Councilman Torre pointed out Monday that he would prefer to “cast a wider net” – applying the ordinance to other types of retailers that provide customers large numbers of plastic bags – most council members always have favored starting with grocers, Cantrell noted.
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“We’ve had very clear direction on that from council in the past,” she said. “They all said, ‘We want to start with grocers and see how it goes.'”
Amid the discussion about fees or bans on plastic bags earlier this year, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association surveyed its members, asking whether they supported a ban on bags at all local retail outlets, Cantrell recalled.
“That was never an option,” she said. “We don’t want to spread undue concern.”
At Monday night’s meeting, Torre and Councilmen Steve Skadron and Adam Frisch indicated that they would prefer to ban plastic bags in lieu of going the fee route.
The Aspen Times has received numerous letters to the editor critical of both fees and bans on plastic bags over the past several months from readers across the Roaring Fork Valley. A common complaint has been the notion that it’s an example of government intrusion into people’s lives.
But during Monday’s public hearing, a few residents spoke in support of the fee, and no one lobbied against the city’s waste-reduction plans involving bags.
Skadron said he believes consumers will quickly grow used to the idea of bringing their own reusable bags to stores. He said he recently vacationed in Maui, where a plastic-bag ban is in place and popular.
“It wasn’t too long ago when it was normal to throw your trash out of the window,” Skadron said. “It wasn’t too long ago when fines weren’t imposed for littering. It wasn’t too long ago when it was unusual to wear seat belts. And I think this bag issue is right in line with those ideas.
“Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country,” he added. “People started using plastic bags; people can stop using plastic bags.”
The earliest a ban would go into effect would be next spring, Cantrell said, citing the difficulties of implementing the program during the winter tourist season.