Are you willing to pay for plastic bags?

City councilors: Durango should research idea of charging fee

City staff members will look into implications of charging a fee for each plastic bag used at stores. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

City staff members will look into implications of charging a fee for each plastic bag used at stores.

For 90 minutes Tuesday, the Durango City Council batted around an issue like a plastic bag floating around a parking lot.

Then a majority consensus emerged that the city should research imposing a small fee, perhaps a nickel or so, on consumers who bag their groceries in plastic.

The political leanings of the councilors were apparent as the majority of Dick White, Christina Rinderle and Sweetie Marbury cast the issue in environmental and public-health terms.

Because plastic bags do not decompose, they have become a public nuisance, clogging landfills and often winding up on the ocean floor, where they contribute to the death of fish and other sea life.

“The bottom line is that we really need to do something,” White said.

Plastic bags are “inherently unsustainable,” he said.

Not worried about a public backlash, Marbury argued for an outright ban.

“I am not afraid of it at all,” she said, noting that Hawaii and communities across the United States already have restricted plastic bags.

“It’s not a fad; it’s here,” she said.

In opposition, Councilor Paul Broderick argued for a “do-nothing approach,” wondering why city government should even get involved. He said he believed in consumer choice and said that many people were already choosing reusable bags anyway.

Mayor Doug Lyon said he was opposed to increasing the costs of a consumer’s grocery bill, even if it’s only 1 percent or so.

Because City Manager Ron LeBlanc said plastic bags account for less than half of 1 percent of the city’s waste stream, Lyon wondered about the relevancy of the issue.

He said the other councilors were swinging a hammer to “kill a gnat.”

Lyon said the city’s move to “single-stream recycling,” or relieving residents from having to separate their cardboard, plastics and aluminum cans, will result in more recycling anyway.

Because single-stream recycling is supposed to be implemented by the end of the year, officials noted the city could promote reusable bags the same time it promoted the new approach to recycling.

But White argued that educational and volunteer efforts by themselves have not been effective in getting consumers to stop using plastic bags. They need motivation, too.

A plastic bag fee in Washington, D.C., has been very successful in getting people to change their behavior.

“It’s a free-market solution,” White said.

City staff members agreed to research the implications of imposing fees for plastic bags at grocery stories and possibly other retailers.

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