For the sake of the environment, consumers could be paying 10 cents per plastic and paper bags for groceries at a major supermarket, according to a 3-2 vote during a Tuesday study session when the Durango City Council gave direction to the staff for developing policy.
Tuesday’s vote was only to move forward with the idea. Before any bag fee is charged to the consumer, the council must take a formal vote at a regular council meeting.
Mayor Doug Lyon, an opponent of the fee along with Councilor Paul Broderick, acknowledged that the policy would be controversial, arguing the council should preserve its political capital “on something that’s really big,” such as a new fee for single-stream recycling. He said plastic bags account for only less than 1 percent of the landfill.
Councilor Sweetie Marbury questioned why the city needed to charge fees on paper bags because paper can be recycled. She also argued for a smaller fee of 5 cents per bag.
But she wound up voting with councilors Christina Rinderle and Dick White because she wanted to see something pass to discourage the use of plastic bags.
Rinderle and White argued for a clear message to get the public to reduce, reuse and recycle.
“The whole point is to minimize the whole waste stream,” White said. “We need to use things over and over again.”
White estimated that the fee would be applied to between 5 million and 10 million grocery bags. Based on experience in other cities, White said the 10-cent fee could reduce the use of these bags by as much as 90 percent.
Rinderle said the 10 cents was “a minimal fee. It’s enough to say: ‘Hey, I am going to remember to bring my (reusable) bag.’”
For perspective, three other Colorado cities – Telluride, Aspen and Carbondale – have already banned plastic bags. Aspen charges 20 cents on paper bag and Telluride charges 10 cents per paper bag, according to research by Durango city staff.
The 10-cent fee was also considered easier for accounting purposes because there could be as much as a 50/50 split between the grocer and the city on the fee. Grocers could keep 5 cents to offset expenses in collecting the fee and for their own environmental efforts.
The city could keep 5 cents for sustainability education, community cleanups, recycling containers and providing reusable bags to the public.
The reusable bags could promote Durango tourism with catchy slogans and graphics.
“You could do collector series with different bags,” City Attorney David Smith suggested.
“Oh yeah, collect all 10!” Rinderle responded enthusiastically.
There is still much nuance to worked out. Exceptions to fee, for example, might be made for low-income consumers. The city intends to charge the fee only at major grocery stores. So not all retailers could be affected, but other retailers could voluntarily participate if they chose to.
The fee would be applied only to bags at checkout, and not for plastic bags on fresh produce or bulk foods.
The implementation and promotion campaign could cost the city an estimated $16,000.
The program would be subject to review and changes. It would be implemented solely, perhaps six months after the formal vote. Marbury acknowledged the city must work with the public.
“Instead of putting the whole pill down somebody’s throat, put it in stages,” Marbury said. “Then people get used to it.”