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360° Perspective: Plastic Bag Fees

Plastic Bag Fees
360° Perspective
Posted at 9:29 PM, Jan 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-03 00:23:17-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Starting this year Denver plans to charge 10 cents for every plastic or paper bag you take at the checkout counter. The fee is aimed at reducing plastic waste but some say the alternative is actually worse.

We're going 360 on this issue, as a councilwoman in Colorado Springs is taking up this issue and working to introduce a similar fee here.

In Denver the city will collect 60 percent of the fee, the stores get 40 percent.

Boulder's been doing this since 2012. Customers there say they're used to bringing their own bags. The Safeway stores there say they've seen a 70 percent decrease in usage as a result.

Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council, expects similar results in Denver. "What we ultimately want to do is urge people to bring their own totes, reusable totes in to the store, rather than using the single use plastic bag."

The point of the fees is to help the environment but one UK government study found shoppers would have to reuse a cotton bag 131 times to have less impact on the environment than a plastic bag used once. The American Progressive Bag Alliance sees bag bans and fees as the wrong solution, saying plastic bags are more compact and easier to transport.

"It uses the least amount of material, it uses the least amount of energy to produce," APBA president Matt Seaholm said, "We understand there's a desire to do something. Unfortunately a lot of these policies miss the mark when it comes to sustainability."

A lot of folks reuse plastic bags for trash at home, where they end up in the landfill, others take them back to the store for recycling.

Some erroneously throw them in the regular recycling bin which causes big problems at the plants.

John Griffith is the regional VP for GFL Environmental. He says on the recycling line one of the jobs is to remove any plastic bags that come in, but they do get caught in the spinners.

"Every time we stop for breaks we have to cut those things out, so it causes a lot of extra unwanted labor around here and a lot of wear and tear on our equipment," Griffith said.

He said they try to stay out of politics but removing bags from their system would benefit the recycling industry.

In Colorado Springs, District 4 Councilwoman Yolanda Avila says constituents have reached out to her hoping she'll bring up the issue.

"The average person has a plastic bag for less than 12 minutes. It takes 500 years to decompose. And it's 100 billion bags used in the nation a year," Avila said she found in her research.

She says Colorado has a ban on bans currently that the legislature will be addressing and that's why they're implementing fees. She says as Olympic City USA we should be leading the way in protecting our environment and look at long term effects, not convenience. She believes it would be easy to change behavior.

"(For now) The best way to attack this problem of this enormous use of plastic bags is by a fee, so I'm doing a lot of research, talking with our research analysts, and getting out there to see what is the best way we can approach this. Will it be by an ordinance? Or will it be enough votes by council to put on a ballot so our citizens can decide what they'd like to see in the future?" Avila said.

She's working on garnering support and hopes to have this on the ballot this year so citizens can decide. She would want to use the TABOR overage to invest in different forms of recycling. We'll keep you posted on her efforts.

We also checked with Pueblo City Council and are still waiting to hear back on whether this is something they're looking into.

In Denver, the ordinance goes into effect July 1st

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