Aspen, other towns take on grocery bag fees

City councils consider charging for each plastic and paper bag used by consumers


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 Aug. 22 meeting, while the Basalt Town Council and Carbondale Board of Trustees will take up the matter Aug. 23, 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 a low cost.

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.”

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. 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.


dave mcirvin 4 years, 9 months ago

who wouldn't want a Whole Foods on the Walgreens' footprint?


1999 4 years, 9 months ago

i'd take whole foods over Walgreens anyday


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

This is one of those really STUPID programs that convinces thinking people that our country is headed downhill. When I come home from the store and compare all the trash from packaging and so on to the plastic shopping bag, I see that the shopping bag represents a tiny fraction of the trash I just purchased. And I do not have to take a garbage bag and I can always bring my own.

And yet this is the issue which local activists pick to promote and braindead governments listen to these crackpots?

This is an area which we have the Green Machine recycling containers which fill up quickly and so are often full and unusable. We could recycle 1000 times more if we could find convenient ways for downtown businesses to recycle cardboard.


mtroach 4 years, 9 months ago

Don't forget the bonus of all the oil that goes into making those bags is just more riches for overseas oil suppliers. Awesome double bonus!


Jeff_Kibler 4 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, like solar panels are completely free of petroleum products. Some are, most are not.


addlip2U 4 years, 9 months ago

"Some local critics have claimed in letters to the editor that they will drive downvalley to grocery shop "

I agree, another deterrent to shop in Steamboat. Rather just pick up groceries while driving to Denver airport. That way I do not spend on additional Steamboat (fly-in program) taxes, plastic bags and yet have the convenience to drop/pick up at the airport curbside without being ticketed. Keep it up Hayden, Steamboat!

What's next?


Oshkoshgirl 4 years, 9 months ago

I guess people in Aspen and Telluride don't have to pick up after their dogs. I myself use the grocery bags for this purpose and the ones I don't use, I put in the Grocery Bag Recycle Bin at City Market. I also use these grocery bags as trash can liners, so I don't have to buy Glad or Hefty trash bags at the store. Banning one type of plastic bag just results in the use of a different kind.


exduffer 4 years, 9 months ago

I wonder how much petroleum these people have used to get their anti bag agenda through?


Melanie Turek 4 years, 9 months ago

exduffer: the story you link to is comparing the relative impacts of paper vs. plastic, but the aspen regulation would outlaw both and require the use of reusable bags, which are better for the environment so long as they are actually reused. So it's not a fair rebuttle of this plan.

oshkoshgirl: what you are saying is that government shouldn't outlaw the use of disposable bags because you like to use them instead of paying for plastic bags to pick up your dog's waste and fill your garbage cans. why should i pay higher grocery bills so that you can save money? done right, this plan should save the stores money since they no longer have to pay for plastic or paper bags and could reasonably charge customers for reusable bags (less than a dollar, at cost). they can pass those savings along to the customer, or not; in the process, we are helping the environment.

If you are simply opposed to ALL government regulation of environmental issues, you should be prepared for some pretty polluted water and food sources, and Ok with the idea of passing the buck to your kids and grandkids. (We all live on this one planet; when it goes to waste, we all suffer the consequences.) Expecting corporations to regulate themselves is just silly; for a recent example, see the BP oil spill.

If you are actually claiming that disposable bags are better for the environment than reusable ones, that's a fair point--if it's true. Please link to relevant, on-topic studies.


Jeff_Kibler 4 years, 9 months ago

Why limit it to grocery stores? Let's just mandate that everyone must supply their own Tupperware when purchasing take-out from Double Z, Azteca, Drunken Onion, Brooklynn's, Canton, Cantina, et al.

Oops, my bad. Tupperware contains petroleum products. Never mind.


exduffer 4 years, 9 months ago

Melanie- did you read the full link? Did you note that sales of regular kitchen trash bags increased 77% in Ireland after the ban? I believe it is a fair rebuttal.


Kevin Chapman 4 years, 9 months ago

"Whole paycheck" is more like it..............but yeh it'd be better than a Walgreens.


1999 4 years, 9 months ago

yeah melanie...the grocery stores will surley pass the savings onto consumers.

when pigs fly


Scott Wedel 4 years, 9 months ago

Melanie, You seem to have missed the basic arguments of the opponents.

No one is suggesting that it is preferable that customers whom do not want plastic or paper grocery bags should be forced to use either.

The question is whether government should regulate the topic of shopping bags. Are shopping bags are large percentage of the garbage at the dump? No, plastic shopping bags form an inconsequential amount of the trash at the dump and many of them have been reused as trash bags.

So the government regulation of shopping bags is not designed or expected to have consequential impact, but merely to constantly remind people of what they are supposed to do because people cannot be trusted to have valid reasons to do anything differently.

From Wikipedia: According to the UK's Environment Agency, 76% of carrier bags are reused. An estimated 90% of individuals reuse plastic bags, and 56% of individuals reuse all plastic shopping bags.

And it took me less than a minute to find a site that sells a thousand bags for about $30. Have to figure that grocery stores get the wholesale rate and are paying no more than 2 cents per bag.


JLM 4 years, 8 months ago

The real story here is NOT the stupid bags, it is that elected officials are wasting taxpayer dollars considering such nonsense.

There are some things that government should just not stick its nose into.

Now how about 1 ply v 2 ply toilet tissue? That's important!


Melanie Turek 4 years, 8 months ago

Scott: All disposable plastic bags can be reused. In our house, we wash out ziplocks and reuse them dozens of times, and on trash day, we empty all our cans into one so that we can reuse the trash bags in those cans over and over. And maybe it is true that HAVING plastic and/or paper disposal bags available for checkout does, in fact, have a lesser environmental impact than not having them, although I have not seen any links to studies that say that. Instead your data suggests that people like getting the free bags at the store so they can reuse them as they choose, rather than paying for bags and then reusing those; but of course some percentage of the free bags DON'T get reused.

exduffer: I did read the whole link. basically, those numbers match Scott's: if 77% of people were reusing those grocery bags before, now they presumably need to buy bags for that use. But that still leaves 23% of those bags not being reused, and not being replaced--depending on how many bags that is, and their impact on the environment, that could be significant, or not. We don't know because the article doesn't say.

The question is whether that impact is big enough to warrant regulation in this case, not whether regulation is ever warranted. So far in this thread, no one has shown evidence that it is not--they have just cried foul about any regulation of any kind, the old "get government out of our lives" trope that is for almost everyone saying it, hypocritical. Surely you use some government services, no? The question is which ones make sense. I am not saying this one does; I am saying, let's use facts to decide, not knee-jerk anti-government rhetoric.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

Melanie, The facts are that plastic shopping bags are an inconsequential amount of the garbage and a high percentage have been reused.

It is the simplest bit of logic to determine whether plastic shopping bags are an issue. Use common sense and compare the amount of resulting garbage from the items purchased inside the bad vs the bag itself. Even if no plastic bags were ever reused then it is obvious that the plastic shopping bag is an inconsequential amount of the resulting trash from a trip to the grocery store.

And it should not be the responsibility for citizens to show evidence that an activity such as plastic bags is so minor that it should not be regulated. The burden of demonstrating evidence of significant impacts falls upon government considering the regulations. We should not be subject to regulations because we failed to prove there was no impact. We should be subject to regulations only if government can show significant harmful impact and significant benefit from the proposed regulations.


Melanie Turek 4 years, 8 months ago


So what you're saying is that because the environmental impact of plastic grocery bags is small, we should not care about it, or do anything to mitigate it? Even if you are correct in your assessment (and you haven't shown any actual evidence that you are, other that stating it as "fact"), that doesn't mean the cities of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale should not regulate against them; in the effort to save our planet every little bit helps. The only argument against it is one that shows eliminating disposable grocery bags has a bigger negative impact on the environment than allowing them does--i.e., showing that the regulation will actually result in the opposite effect than its intent.

And, in fact, it is absolutely the responsibility of citizens to show evidence against government efforts they don't like, to convince their fellow citizens to join them in their opposition, and then to do what they can (attend council meetings, vote, etc.) to change the regulations. Of course, it is also incumbent of the governing people in the Roaring Fork Valley who made this decision to do their research in advance of creating such regulations, to ensure the regulations they inact make sense. The responsibility is on both sides. I don't know whether they did or not--that's not clear from the article, which also does not clarify anything for readers on the relative merits of the issue itself.

What bothers me is the knee-jerk reaction to any and all government regulation. I am totally open to the idea that this *particular" regulation is bad, but so far no one has shown that.


Jeff_Kibler 4 years, 8 months ago

Melanie, It appears to me that the only knee-jerk reaction in this blog comes from you alone. Perhaps I missed something, but who stated opposition to "any and all government regulation?" I believe your inference is without foundation.


1999 4 years, 8 months ago

melanie...regulation costs US money.

how about start with education and go from there.

as scott has said.....the bags themselves are a small small % of the total waste found in landfills.

should we also ban disposable diapers, bottled water, plastic packaging, manufacturing plants, cars and tires? etc etc etc etc.

please just think of all of the things we should/could ban if we are talking about pollution. makes for better results than regulation.


sledneck 4 years, 8 months ago

"Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad". Euripides

Our country is broke, our state is broke and our local governments are sinking and THIS is what gets attention???

It is my sincere belief that no person who set out to write a work of ridiculous, absurd fiction could possibly come as close as the true story of American government, environmentalists and socialists over the past 2 decades; not even if that person had access to all the LSD and Jack Daniels in the world.


mtroach 4 years, 8 months ago

Can we boycott using plastic bags without the government being involved? I personally don't like all those bags, for many reasons, so I take my own cloth bags in to use. No regulation needed.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 8 months ago

Melanie, What I am saying is because the impacts of plastic shopping bags is between nonexistent and miniscule then GOVERNMENT should not use its limited resources to mandate how businesses and individuals deal with this issue.

People and businesses are free to not use plastic shopping bags.

Your argument that every little bit helps is simply not true when allocating limited resources. If we allocate money and time for something of microscopic benefit then that money and time is not available for more effective purposes.

It is common sense to simply look at the contents of a shopping cart and see how much garbage will result from those purchases compared to the starting size of the plastic shopping bags to see that the plastic bags are a tiny percentage of the trash stream. And the Wiki reference has attributed sources on the Wiki page so we know that 76% of the plastic bags are already reused.


boatski 4 years, 8 months ago

Here's an interesting article about Reusable Grocery Bags:

Back to plastic? Reusable grocery bags may cause food poisoning

Some other questions to think about how are reusable bags made and what happens to all the ones we eventually throw away. A lot of them have logos and wording (ink or dies) on the bags, is that bad for the environment? We might be opening up a whole new can of worms with reusable bags, just like corn for gasoline was going to save us?


exduffer 4 years, 8 months ago

Read that too boatski, that is why I have stopped using them. I do other things that make more sense, like not using paper towels except on road trips. Buy some hand towels, you can get a dozen for less than $10, toss them in with the wash and save a lot more than not using plastic bags I bet. Maybe we can legislate that;)


wickie 4 years, 8 months ago

I love my canvas bags. They don't break, they are washable and multi-purpose. I go to places like Target and they reward me with a five cent credit per bag. I like that and sometimes they ask if I would like to donate it to a featured community cause which I like even better. I don't always remember my canvas bags and I don't think I would appreciate being charged for a bag. I always find a re-use for the bags, but charging seems so negative. This is an area where legislators can keep out and work on bigger things and let personal choice and example work. Stores can promote a reward such as Target does and attract shoppers.


sledneck 4 years, 8 months ago

Doesn't using plastic bags stimulate the economy? Someone, somewhere has a job making them, no? Do we really want to put that poor guy/ gal out of work in these troubled times? I say NO. We should use more plastic bags to stimulate the economy!


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