Some Colorado residents could see plastic bag fees on November ballot

A shopper carries groceries in a plastic bag in Denver on March 21, 2020. The city of Colorado Springs weighed a 10 cent bag fee Monday. Colorado Politics

Colorado Springs City Council could ask voters in November to approve a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags aimed at combating pollution.

Councilwoman Yolanda Avila pitched the idea Monday and received a hesitant response from five council members interested in studying the issue to decide later whether to put a question on the ballot. Four council members said they were opposed to the idea based on philosophical reasons, concerns about an already crowded November ballot, and worries about burdening businesses further after challenges posed by the coronavirus.

The bag fee could help combat litter across the city and encourage residents to rely on reusable bags and reduce the overall consumption of single-use plastic bags, Avila said.

“Environmentally, it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

The state legislature was expected to roll back a law prohibiting bans on plastic bags this year, but that fell by the wayside during the pandemic. Avila was prompted to bring a citywide proposal forward after the state’s inaction, she said.

The city proposal would allow retailers to keep 4 cents of every 10 cents charged for a bag and use the funds on education about the fee, infrastructure to increase plastic bag recycling, administration associated with collecting the fee, and other costs, according to the city proposal. The city would receive the remaining 6 cents per bag and use the revenue for litter cleanup efforts, providing reusable bags for the public, education about plastic waste and related costs.

The proposed ordinance outlines several exceptions to the fee, including pharmacy bags, garment bags, newspaper bags, door-hanger bags and those used for vegetables, nuts and other products sold at grocery stores.

If passed, the fee would go into effect July 1, 2021, and by that time many of the health concerns about using reusable bags at the grocery store and inadvertently spreading the coronavirus should be passed, Avila said.

The fee could raise between about $937,000 to more than $1 million, a portion of which could fund city and volunteer-led litter cleanups, she said. The need for more cleanup seemed to unite the council, even if the idea of a fee did not.

“I have never had so many complaints about trash and I see it so much when I go out and hike,” President Richard Skorman said.

Councilwoman Jill Gaebler backed investigating the fee idea, but wanted more information about the impact it could have on low-income and homeless residents.

“Most of our homeless folks are certainly not holding on to reusable bags,” she said.

At the same time, most low-income residents are more impacted by air, water and trash pollution, making it more of a concern for them, Avila said.

Councilman Andy Pico said the idea could be problematic because it is creating a funding source for city cleanup that may decline as more residents make the switch from single use to reusable bags. He also said he was philosophically opposed to the idea.

“I don’t think we as a government should mandating that or collecting a fee,” he said.

The council plans to hear from retailers and the public before deciding whether to place a bag fee question on the ballot.

 

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