TELLURIDE – At present count, it looks like at least local grocers could be charging a fee on the paper bags they hand customers in lieu of plastic.
That was the Telluride Town Council’s most recent direction on the pending bag ordinance with which it is attempting to reduce the number of disposable paper and plastic bags used by local shoppers.
“The whole purpose of this is to encourage people not to use a bag at all,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Saunders, who joined the majority of council in reversing its position of three weeks ago. At that time council directed town staff to draft the ordinance to ban all retailers from handing out most types of plastic bags within town limits, but stopped short of imposing a fee on paper bags that environmentalists said was necessary to change consumer behavior by encouraging people to bring their own reusable bags with them when shopping.
That position was itself a departure from even earlier direction to impose an “Advanced Recovery Fee” on each paper and plastic bag handed out to consumers at local grocery stores. That idea eventually grew into the outright plastic ban on all retailers after local grocery store representatives opposed it as discriminatory and overly burdensome.
Although the ordinance was before council on a first reading, the new direction means that it will need to be rewritten before returning for another first reading in three weeks.
Councilmember David Oyster joined Councilmember Ann Brady in opposing the addition of the paper fee.
“We made it quite clear to the town attorney that we didn’t want a fee. That is why it was drafted the way it was,” Oyster said, later adding, “I am vehemently opposed to any fee.”
“I’m not sure about the fee at all,” said Brady, concerned that the costs associated with administering the fee could be more than the total monies collected.
Council directed that the ordinance be drafted to require only the town’s grocery stores to collect the paper fee, but that could change to include all retailers when it goes to first reading.
“I think you ought to include us,” said John Duncan of Telluride Outside. “As a retailer, I support a relatively heavy-handed approach on this.”
“I’m very much in support of going this together; it’s not fair for certain businesses to have to go it alone,” said Eric Dalton of Jagged Edge.
“It’s all about sharing the rest of the burden with the rest of the business owners.”
Although council batted around potential fees of between 10 and 25 cents per bag, at the request of Town Manager Greg Clifton, they declined to set a specific amount.
“What you’re thinking of doing, I guarantee, will have profound administrative impact,” Clifton said, adding that setting a specific fee at this early juncture would be unwise.
“I hope you will allow some administrative analysis,” he said. “We don’t know how it will be implemented, what it will cost.”
But for Village Market Manager Bob Harnish, who offered to collect the town’s plastic bags and transport them to a recycling center at no cost rather than see them banned or be forced to collect a fee on them, the charge is just another word for tax, and it’s wrong.
“They’re scared to call it a tax,” he said.
But if it must be done, it should apply to all the town’s retailers.
“I still believe that it’s wrong, but if they’re going to force it upon us it should be just and nondiscriminatory.”
Harnish said that he was satisfied with the community-wide plastic bag ban that still allowed him to hand out paper bags at no charge to his customers.
“They’re forgetting the fact that a bag is a bag and it doesn’t matter where it comes from,” he said.
“I’m disappointed that they’ve come full circle again.”
As for what he will do next, he plans “to see what lunacy they come up with on the next first reading,” he said.
Local environmental activist David Allen couldn’t be more pleased with the reversal.
“I’m very happy,” he said.
Three years ago Allen first asked council to consider passing a local ban on the lightweight plastic bags ubiquitous at most grocery store checkouts. At that time council encouraged him to pursue a voluntary educational plastic bag reduction program.
That idea initially took shape as a friendly competition between the towns of Telluride, Mountain Village and Aspen held during the summer of 2008 to see which community could cut its per capita consumption. The following summer it grew into a much larger competition between 31 mountain towns in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho.
“We want to pass an effective ordinance and I believe if you just ban plastic bags, though it would be a positive step, it would be far less effective,” Allen said.
Without an incentive for customers to forgo the paper substitutes, “It would do very little to actually affect resource consumption.”