ASPEN, COLO (Sept. 7, 12 p.m. ET) — In an effort to encourage residents to bring their own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, Aspen and two neighboring cities are one step closer to charging a fee on disposable grocery bags.
City councils in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale, Colo., are working together to implement the bag fee, with all three taking the issue up during their past and upcoming meetings.
For the last three years, Aspen has been working on a number of different programs to try and reduce single-use bags.
“We've done challenges, competitions, voluntary programs and handing out free bags,” said Ashley Cantrell, environmental health specialist for Aspen. “We've tossed around a number of different ordinances – a ban, a fee and all sorts of different stuff.”
On Aug. 22, the Aspen City Council passed the “Waste Reduction Fee Ordinance” by a 4-1 vote on first reading. The fee will get a more extensive public hearing on Sept. 12 when the council will have the opportunity to adopt the ordinance.
Aspen would implement a 20-cent fee, with the cost subject to change upon the second reading, on single-use disposable paper and plastic bags distributed at the two grocery stores within city limits. The fee would only apply to bags handed out in the checkout lines of the grocery stores and would exempt bags available in the produce department or bags from other retail stores and restaurants in the city.
“We've worked with the grocers — Kroger on a national scale, and Clark's Market is our other grocer in the valley — and we've had numerous meetings with them,” Cantrell said. “They've been involved with writing the ordinance.”
Two members of Aspen's City Council are in favor of an outright ban, not a fee.
“If Aspen wants to live up to its assumed goals of being an environmental leader, I don't think the tax is the way to go, and we should be discussing the ban,” Councilmember Adam Frisch said. “I think the bags are horrible for the environment.”
The Basalt City Council heard from residents during an Aug. 23 public hearing and first reading of a proposed grocery bag fee. The council voted 5-1 in favor of the measure, and a specific amount will be debated during a second reading later this month. Carbondale's trustees will look at the issue on Sept. 13.
The proposed ordinances for the towns will return some of the revenue to the grocers. The towns' share will be put back into bag education and other efforts to reduce waste.
The towns plan to provide reusable bags to residents and visitors, organize community cleanup days and create a website that shares information about waste reduction.
The fees collected through Aspen's ordinance will be deposited into the Waste Reduction Account and will only be used for waste-related community projects, according to the city. The account will roll over from year to year and will not transfer to the general fund, the ordinance says.
Shari Jackson, director of the Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council, said banning or taxing is not an appropriate way toward environmental stewardship.
“These are broad public policy approaches,” Jackson said, “but there are alternatives to bans and taxes if you want to get at litter in a way that does not negatively affect consumers and the environment.”
Since 2009, bag recycling has increased 31 percent to more than 855 million pounds per year, she said.