MAY 8, 2019 BY 

From the Steamboat Pilot & TodayMay 7, 2019

by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Start gathering your reusable bags.

After 9 p.m., with a dwindling but supportive audience in council chambers, Steamboat Springs City Council has granted the first of two approvals needed to ban some retailers from giving customers single-use plastic bags.

City staff estimate local grocers give 3.8 million single-use plastic bags to customers annually.

The ordinance, first proposed by a group of local high school students in Teen Council in November 2018, would outright ban single-use bags at some larger stores and levy a 20-cent fee on disposable paper bags. Smaller retailers can opt into the program at management’s discretion.

City Council approved the first reading of the ordinance in a 4-to-3 vote. Those who opposed the measure supported the concept but wanted to see a smaller, 10-cent fee. Final approval will be granted at council’s second reading scheduled for May 21.

A Teen Council member in the audience exclaimed “Heck yeah!” when City Council President Jason Lacy asked for a show of hands of those in the audience in support of the motion. Nobody present was opposed.

The ordinance is set to take effect Oct. 1, pending second approval.

Details of the ban

If approved, the ban will apply to stores large than 10,000 square feet that sell staple food items, including Walmart, City Market, Safeway and Walgreens.

At the time of purchase, a customer will be able to pay a 20-cent fee for paper bags. Customers using federal food assistance will be exempt from the fee.

Stores will be allowed to keep 5 cents of that fee to fund public and sales staff education, improvements to infrastructure and administration of the fee, the cost of collecting the fee and encouraging the use of reusable bags.

The city will use 15 cents of the fee to fund a new city program that will initially provide reusable bags and education to the community. After the first year, it will fund those actions as well as program administration, additional waste reduction infrastructure, community cleanup events that reduce trash and maintenance of a website aimed at educating the public about waste reduction efforts.

Smaller retailers can opt in to the fee, and if they choose to, they will keep the entirety of the fee. This aims to incentivize smaller retailers to implement the plastic bag ban and paper bag fee.

An obscure state law put on the books in 1993 actually states that local governments cannot ban the use or sale of plastic materials, though Colorado’s solid waste program manager told the Colorado Sun the state doesn’t enforce this section of the statute. No existing plastic bag bans or fees have been challenged on this statute so far, according to the staff report included in Tuesday’s City Council documents.

If approved, City Council will take the risk of breaking this law, joining the nine Colorado municipalities with bag bans or fees on the books.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.