TELLURIDE – Hoping to pave the way for similar measures in resort towns and other municipalities in Colorado and even across the nation, Telluride became the first community in the state Tuesday to ban the distribution of plastic bags – now ubiquitous at checkout counters – after Town Council voted 5-2 to approve on second reading an ordinance creating the new law.
“We hope it allows people that live within the region, and people that visit the region, to realize the importance of taking every step possible in order to lower your carbon footprint,” said Mayor Stu Fraser.
The new law prohibits grocers and other retailers located within town limits from distributing most types of disposable plastic bags to customers when the law goes into effect on March 1, 2011. Bags excluded from the prohibition include those used within a store such as those for meat, vegetable and bulk items, prescription drug bags, newspaper bags, packaged multiple bags and reusable carryout bags.
Beginning a few months prior to the plastic ban, on Jan. 1, 2011, both Clark’s Market and the Village Market must begin collecting a 10-cent per bag Advance Recovery Fee on the paper bags they give out. Per the ordinance, those bags must contain at least 40 percent recycled content with no old-growth fiber, and be 100 percent recyclable.
After March 1, retailers other than the town’s two grocery stores must distribute paper bags to their customers in lieu of plastic bags. However, they are no recycled content or other requirements, and the retailers may choose to collect the ARF or not.
The staggered implementation is designed to allow smaller retailers more time to deplete back stocks of plastic bags. The grocers can transfer their bags to other locations in their same chains.
Effectively, it means that a consumer purchasing energy bars from a local sporting goods store next February could leave with them in a free plastic bag, while paying 10 cents extra for a paper bag to carry the same items from a grocery store.
The grocers and any other retailers who volunteer to collect the paper bag fee designed to encourage people to take neither paper nor plastic but to shop with their own reusable bags, can retain five cents from each sale to cover their administrative costs.
The Town of Telluride will retain the other half to fund a public education campaign about the impact of trash on the regional environment (and the implementation of the fee); to help subsidize the cost of reusable carryout bags; and to fund cleanup events and other activities that reduce trash in the environment.
Penalties for violating the ordinance range from a written warning for the first offense to a $300 fine for the third offense.
While the majority of comments made during the sixth and final public meeting on the matter supported it, the measure was not without its detractors.
Local hot tub maintenance business owner Harold Wondsel, who accused council of “greenwashing” – that is, promoting a misleading image of the town being more environmentally responsible than it actually is – at the first reading of the ordinance three weeks ago (much as he did when council approved a tough, new energy and building code this past June) threatened a referendum.
“We are going to take this to the voters,” he said, asking council to delay the effective date to May 1, 2011 in order put it on the April election ballot and thereby avoid the cost of a special election.
Town Clerk M.J. Schillaci confirmed that following this fall’s general election, the next scheduled election will take place in November 2011. There is no April election.
“You have chosen not to pursue the science of this matter, that puts you in the same league as climate change deniers,” Wondsel said. “This is going to force people to use paper bags, which are way worse for the environment.”
Recognizing that possibility, most of council saw the ARF fee as necessary to counter it.
Nevertheless, it was enough to convince Councilmembers Ann Brady and David Oyster to vote against the ordinance.
“Although I am philosophically in favor of a plastic bag ban, I am fundamentally opposed to intruding upon the relationship between a retailer and his customer,” said Oyster referring to the mandatory fee.
While Wondsel said he feared that the town is being ridiculed in state media coverage of the issue, Dave Hodges dismissed that idea.
“I don’t think we’ve ever let the thought of being ridiculed by the rest of the state stop us from doing anything,” he said.
Hodges said that while Telluride’s small size means the plastic bags used here have a relatively small impact, “Nationwide and globally the bag is an issue.”
Telluride Tourism Board/Marketing Telluride Inc. Chief Executive Officer Scott McQuade, while not taking an official position on the ordinance, said that press coverage of the bag ban and the award-winning, locally-produced film Bag It, whose creators advocate against the use of plastic bags, have generated untold public relations value and recognition for the town.
“I’ve also noticed that as a result of this my Google Alert goes off daily,” he said, referring to the automatic internet notification service that alerts users when certain topics hit the web.
“I would suggest to you that not only are the state and other resorts watching, but the rest of the nation is watching,” he continued. “I predict this will actually go beyond the town boundaries.”
According to Fraser, town staff members recently received inquiries about the measure from media outlets including CNN and USAToday.
In a letter to council, Cashmere Red owner Caci Greenspan lauded the ordinance as providing the community with, “A unique opportunity to be at the forefront of a movement at its infancy.”
“It’s not an easy task to be a pioneer, but pioneership should be collectively done by the people,” not by laws, said Bob Harnish, manager of the Village Market.
Harnish, in an effort to dissuade council from passing the plastic bag ban, at one point offered to personally collect and deliver to Montrose for recycling all plastic bags collected in designated bins, remained adamantly opposed to the ordinance, considering it at once a voter-unauthorized tax, discriminatory against the town’s grocers, and a hardship on customers.
David Allen, who three years ago asked council to consider passing a local ban on plastic bags, only to be encouraged to pursue a voluntary educational plastic bag reduction program at that time, was thrilled with the vote.
“Obviously this has been a long time coming, and it’s a project that we as a community have been collectively working on for two years now,” he said. “It has been a magnificent team effort and something I hope everyone in the community is proud of.”