SEPTEMBER 30, 2019 BY 

Take a bag, leave a bag system aims to help shoppers build habits

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Whether you have more reusable bags than you ever hope to use, or you’re still trying to gather more to avoid facing the paper bag fee, bag shares that will soon appear around town aim to help.

Steamboat’s plastic bag ban and paper bag fee take effect at grocery stores on Tuesday, Oct. 1. At Safeway, City Market, Walmart and Walgreens, shoppers should use reusable bags or be prepared to pay $0.20 per paper bag. Some smaller stores are also anticipated to opt-in to participate in the bag ban and fee. Customers using federal and state food assistance programs will be exempt from the fee.

Ahead of the ban, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and the city of Steamboat Springs are working to place “bag shares” at area stores.

It works similarly to the take a penny, leave a penny trays you might already see at cash registers. If you forget a bag or if you need a bag, you can take one from the bag bank. When you’re done with the bag, you should clean the bag and return it to the bag bank. Bags can also be donated to the bag share by leaving them in the bin.

“The hope is that customers or clients who are coming in get in the habit of either bringing extra bags and leaving those for others to use, or taking them if they need bags of their own,” said Sustainability Council Communications and Development Director Anne Mudgett.

Bag shares are either already established or will soon be available at the following locations:

  • City Market
  • Safeway
  • Walmart
  • Natural Grocers
  • LiftUp Food Bank and Thrift Store
  • Routt County Department of Human Services
  • Yampa Valley Sustainability Council office
  • Mainstreet Steamboat Farmers Market
  • Community Agricultural Alliance Marketplace

Mudgett said the Sustainability Council and the city had a few goals in installing bag shares.

“[We wanted] to make sure that reusable bags got into the hands of people who couldn’t afford to pay the fee or couldn’t afford to buy their own reusable bags,” Mudgett said. “Clearly, the intent of the bag ban was to encourage people to use reusable bags and not pay that fee by remembering their reusable bags.”

“I think the other goal of the program is to help people get in the habit,” she continued. “Habits are not formed overnight, so if you forget your reusable bag, there’s a bag share program at the market where you’re shopping, and you can grab a bag. Maybe you return that the next time you’re at the store, but maybe you keep it because you needed another cloth bag anyway.”

The bag share could also be useful to visitors who might not bring reusable bags on their vacation, she said.

While the locations hosting bag shares will be responsible for maintaining the bag share, the Sustainability Council is providing reusable bags to get bag shares started. The Sustainability Council can also help refill the bag shares should they run out. Initially, bag shares will be stocked with Yampa Valley Recycles reusable bags and reusable bags made out of t-shirts, which were hand-tied by local kids in the Boys and Girl Club and the city’s Afterschool Action program.

“We do welcome donations, so if you have more reusable bags than you need, we would love for people to start donating them to the bag share bins,” Mudgett said.

The city is also providing households in Steamboat one free reusable bag. Steamboat residents should receive a mailed postcard containing a coupon for the reusable bag, which can be redeemed at the Combined Law Enforcement Building or City Hall.

Teen Council, an organization that aims to give Yampa Valley teens a voice, brought the bag ban before city council in 2018. Over the past year, the students worked with city staff, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and city council to develop the ordinance that eventually passed on May 21.

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