Our View: Plastic bag fee won’t work
August 27, 2011
Placing a fee on disposable bags used at large retailers like grocery stores and Walmart will only hurt Steamboat Springs residents. A better strategy would be to work with those large retailers to make more reusable bags available to residents free of charge.
On Sept. 6, Yampa Valley Recycles is scheduled to present a proposal to the Steamboat Springs City Council to impose a 20-cent fee on all disposable shopping bags, including paper and plastic, at large retailers. The definition of large retailer is yet to be determined; small retailers could choose to participate in the program.
Of the fee, 1 to 2 cents would go to the stores to cover processing fees. The rest would fund Yampa Valley Recycles' Keep Our Mountain Green reusable bag program, specifically to provide the bags to people who receive assistance from social service organizations and to provide education.
Let us start by acknowledging that we use disposable plastic bags to distribute our Sunday newspaper and protect those newspapers from the weather. Let us also acknowledge that we understand and are sympathetic to what Yampa Valley Recycles is trying to do.
But a fee on plastic bags is a costly and wholly inadequate solution to the problem. We would urge the City Council to reject Yampa Valley Recycles' proposal.
Reusable shopping bags have been touted as a green alternative to plastic bags for more than a decade. Unfortunately, their availability hasn't done much to change behaviors — at least not significantly. Most people are well meaning. Most people want to protect the environment. But most people forget their reusable bags when they go shopping.
A fee is unlikely to change that; it will merely make life here just a little more expensive. Besides, it seems a little backward for Yampa Valley Recycles to plan to raise funds by charging a fee on a practice it aims to eliminate.
The ideal solution would be for the big stores to provide reusable bags to customers and eliminate plastic bags altogether. But given the disparities in costs between reusable and plastic bags, that seems unlikely to happen.
Here is a proposal that we think could work. What if Steamboat's big three retailers — Safeway, City Market and Walmart — were to allow Yampa Valley Recycles to place reusable bag kiosks at the front of their stores. The kiosks could be stocked with thousands of reusable bags for shoppers to take freely. Shoppers also could drop reusable bags at the kiosks. Property management companies could collect bags left behind by visitors and return them to the kiosks or make them available to new guests.
More bags always would be going out than coming in. But local businesses could donate bags — brandished with the businesses' logo and advertising messages — to the program. Yampa Valley Recycles volunteers could sometimes staff the kiosks, distribute educational materials and collect dropped-off bags for cleaning before they are used again.
Shoppers wouldn't have to feel guilty about forgetting their reusable bags. More importantly they wouldn't be charged unnecessarily for that minor sin. Throughout time, perhaps the major retailers would start to decrease the availability of plastic bags.
We can't fix our plastic bag problem with a fee that mostly burdens residents. We can, however, begin to make progress with an approach that challenges businesses and residents alike to commit to the effort.
Say no to the fee. Give the kiosks a chance.