Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the ordinance does not require restaurants to collect a fee for plastic bags supplied to customers.
Aspen will say goodbye to single-use plastic carry-out bags in the near future, and those plastic bag fees at the grocery stores are here to stay.
The Aspen City Council unanimously adopted Ordinance 6 on second reading during its regular meeting on Tuesday, simultaneously adopting Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act into the city code.
Ordinance 6 maintains the 20-cent fee on single-use carry-out bags in Aspen and paves the way for more waste reduction efforts in the future. The funds that the city collects are used for a variety of initiatives to benefit the community, such as an annual reusable bag giveaway for residents and visitors.
“The most recent iteration of these are actually up-cycled bags from banners that have hung around town for events and other items,” said Tessa Schreiner, the city’s sustainability manager.
The city also puts on an annual electronics waste drive using funds from the waste reduction fee.
“It’s a collection event for residents to drop off electronic waste, and annually we collect about a tractor-trailer full of e-waste at these events,” Schreiner said.
Going forward, the city will split the funds collected from the bag fees with stores. The businesses will keep 4 cents and remit 16 cents to the city per bag sold.
Beginning in 2024, stores in Aspen, like the rest of Colorado, also will be able to only distribute paper bags made from 100% recycled materials, and in the summer of 2024, Aspen will be able to create more stringent laws on the distribution of single-use materials.
No members of the public spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting. Like on first reading, council members were supportive of the ordinance and thanked Schreiner and staff for their work on the topic.
“It’s helping source those establishments where they can buy and manufacture 100% recycled paper bags in the future, and helping them source the different suppliers of compostable and reusable take-out equipment and paper straws instead of plastic straws and things like that,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “I think the more robust a list of alternatives we are able to give people to help them make the transition easier, that’s well worth the investment.”
Council members did not have many concerns about Ordinance 6, but Mayor Torre suggested phasing the fee out over a couple of years.
“Overall, it’s really about the behavioral change and not the revenue,” he said. “I’m not looking for a revenue stream here.”
Richards pointed out that the 20-cent fee is what incentivizes people to remember to bring their reusable bags to the store.
“I think the disincentive is really important,” she said.
City staff will return to the council before July 1, 2024, with proposals for additional restrictions on single-use materials.