APRIL 12, 2019 BY 

by Eleanor C. Hasenbeck

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In October, you likely won’t be carrying your groceries out of the store in a single-use plastic bag.

On Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council directed staff to bring forward an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags and placing a 20-cent fee on paper bags. People who receive federal nutrition assistance will be exempt from the fee.

The bag ban was brought to council by Teen Council, a program that seeks to get high school students engaged in their community.

“‘Giving teens a voice’ — that’s our thing,” said Andrew Peterson, a Steamboat Springs High School senior who serves on the Teen Council’s executive committee. “That really embodies this project. It’s really given us a voice within our community.”

Teen Council proposed a ban on plastic bags and a 10-cent fee on paper bags. A majority of City Council members supported a 20-cent fee on paper bags to disincentivize the use of any single-use bags.

For months, discussion on the ban has been pushed off City Council agendas since Teen Council first introduced the idea to a crowded City Council chamber in November.

I feel super proud of this whole community for coming together on this, and I’m really thankful for the (City) Council for even allowing us to bring it forward and thankful that they have come to a decision about it,” said Gretchen Jacobs, another member of the executive committee and a senior at Steamboat Springs High School.

In the work session, council members hammered out what they wanted to see in an ordinance set to go before City Council in May. City staff will draft a final ordinance that is slated to go before the group again May 7 for first reading and May 21 for second reading. City Council wants to see the ordinance take effect Oct. 1.

The bag ban will apply to City Market, Safeway, Walmart and Walgreens. Though the exact language hasn’t been drafted, City Council directed staff to target these four stores — all are over 10,000 square feet. City staff estimated these four stores use about 3.8 million plastic bags per year.

These stores will give 75% of the paper bag fee revenue to the city, and they’ll be allowed to keep the remaining 25%. Stores will be expected to spend this revenue on staff training, public education, signage, the cost of collecting and remitting the fee to the city and other store costs associated with implementing the ban.

Smaller retailers could opt into the program, and they would be allowed to keep the entirety of the paper bag fee.

The city would use revenues from the fee to administer the bag ban program, provide reusable bags to shoppers, educational campaigns about waste reduction and funding and maintaining waste diversion programs and equipment, such as recycling bins.

“It was really cool to see council work together to come to this, and they really, I think, responded to what we and the community wanted,” Peterson said.

The policy has seen broad support from City Council and the public. In the November meeting in which Teen Council introduced the idea, a standing room-only crowd waved signs in support of the ban, and City Council received about 40 minutes of public comment in favor of a ban.

This time around, City Council received written comments in support of the ban from residents of all ages, including 10 letters from Mountain Village Montessori Charter School students.

“I think we should ban grocery bags because they can not be recycled and they get thown (sic) away right away,” wrote student Erick Yeiser. “It may be a hard habit to break but it’s worth it.”

In verbal public comment, one small business owner expressed concern about the increased cost it would bring about for his downtown store. One person spoke against it, saying it was a “feel good gesture” that would not have a real impact.

Local grocers appear to be on board with the ban. Nationwide, City Market’s parent company, The Kroger Co., plans to phase out plastic bags by 2025.

“I am in support of the ban,” said Steamboat Safeway Store Director Tharles Silva.

He said he had spoken with city and Safeway staff at the store’s Vail location, which has a plastic bag ban and paper bag fee. He told City Council it would be easy to implement, as long as stores have time to burn through an existing inventory of plastic sacks. Safeway’s point of sale system already has buttons in place for bag fees.

“It’s good for the environment,” he said. “Safeway did a lot of training about reducing the amount of plastic that goes into the community. When I first started, we needed to put a minimum of three items in a bag. That three became five, became seven. Now, it’s a range of between eight and nine, and customers are trying to leave the store carrying the bags, and it’s as heavy as it can be, trying to reduce that.”

And, even before the ban is in place, Teen Council hopes patrons will remember a reusable bag the next time they shop.

“Bring your reusable bags,” Jacobs said. “We’re not asking a lot of people.”

“It’s something bigger than just a ban and a fee,” Peterson said. “It’s going to be impacting our communities. It’s not something that just impacts stores. It’s our community at large and our culture as a whole.”

To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic, visit steamboatsprings.net/agendas.

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