B.Y.O.B. Will Denver do it?

Janna Six : Tuesday July 9, 11:32AM

Instead of a FREE BAG at check-out to carry your groceries,
help Denver go BAG FREE.

In the next month, the Denver City Council will be asked to approve an ordinance that initiates a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags to carry out purchases at food stores and convenience stores within the City of Denver.

What are the details of the proposed ordinance?

(provided by Jenn Hughes, aide to Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega as of 7/1/2013, subject to change)
  • 2-cents retained by retailer to offset administrative, labor, and other costs
  • 3-cents returned to the city quarterly and linked to program to distribute reusable bags, conduct public education and outreach, and conduct cleanup efforts
  • Retailers have the option to donate the retained portion of the fee
  • At least a six-month delay between adoption and an effective date of Earth Day 2014 (April 22, 2014)
  • Reusable bags purchased by the City and County of Denver for distribution through the fee-funded program will be manufactured in the United States
  • Retailers directly affected by the ordinance will have the opportunity to donate reusable bags to the City-administered program
  • Required signage will include mandated ordinance language and retailers will have the option to design signage using their unique brand standards

What’s wrong with plastic bags?

Plastic grocery and shopping bags may offer short-term convenience, but they have long-term costs.

Plastic bags –

  • Take 1,000 years to biodegrade in a landfill
  • Are ingested by wildlife
  • Contaminate and increase the cost of recycling
  • Become litter
  • Clog storm drains and waterways
  • Waste petroleum resources for the convenience of a single use

Rather than incentivizing shoppers to opt for paper bags, which also have significant environmental costs, the City’s goal is to educate and encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags, which are the least costly and most environmentally friendly option over the long term.

Why should we care?

Why should you and I care about measly little plastic bags when higher priority environmental issues need urgent attention? If policies such as this bag fee ordinance can change people’s behavior in a small way, it will add up to tons of bags kept out of the waste stream. Denver residents consume almost 130 million disposable bags, about 176 bags per resident, per year (City of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health).

If Denver’s modest, thoughtful bag fee doesn’t pass, how will the City have the gumption to tackle bigger, tougher resource decisions ahead of us?

While talking with neighbors about the proposed bag fee, I’ve heard dozens of logical reasons why there shouldn’t be a fee or how shoppers could avoid the fee. My favorite is the ingenious saboteur who plans to buy a box of plastic bags to have on hand. When purchased by the case, he claims they are less than a penny each. If this ordinance passes and a shopper wants to continue to use the store’s single-use plastic bags, he/she will fork out an extra $8.80 over a year – negligible cost.

I predict that the ordinance will have a big, positive impact.  Single-use bags will be reduced by at least 60% in a year.  I predict that shoppers will become educated and empowered by the recognition that there is a fiscal impact for using single-use bags.

Is Denver a trendsetter?

Although the majority of shoppers in Colorado have not been confronted with the decision of whether to buy or bring a bag to carry out their groceries, such fees are sprouting up throughout Colorado and the US.

In the past year, Durango, Boulder, Breckenridge, Telluride, and Basalt have all enacted fees on bags. The going rate seems to be 10 cents per bag.  The entire state of Hawaii has banned single-use plastic bags. Fees are commonplace in all other countries of the world where plastic bags are available.

Here’s where you come in!  (insert marching band here)

Contact Mayor Hancock and your City Council member urging him/her to support the five cent bag fee in Denver food stores now, to become effective on Earth Day 2014. Lay out a five year plan now to ratchet up the fee by five cents per year and expand the ordinance to include all retail stores.

Be a leader in the “bag free” campaign.

  • Make it fun and easy and trendy to bring your own bag
  • Get creative. Customize your bags
  • Flaunt your reused bags and encourage / congratulate others for reusing bags
  • Wash your bags regularly so there’s no concern about contamination
  • If another shopper doesn’t have a bag, donate one of your bags to him/her
  • Work with retailers to set up effective educational signs, contests, bag give-aways
  • Create plastic bag displays in your workplace and community so people can see how many bags they throw away and what happens to those bags.

If you hear of a family facing a hardship by having to purchase bags, have them contact the City to get free reusable bags. To avoid a burden on low income families, revenue from the ordinance will go toward reusable bags that will be donated to low income families.

Request  that all municipalities in the Denver area implement similar ordinances at the same time so that shoppers won’t be confused or motivated to cross city boundaries to save a nickel.

Now, we have to look at what’s going into those shopping bags!



Author Bio:

At the Alliance, Janna currently oversees collaborative efforts to increase literacy about sustainability so that future generations of Coloradans graduate high school understanding how their decisions affect the environment, society and the economy so they can act in a responsible and effective manner. By leveraging relationships with community leaders in all sectors, Janna is expanding the network of partners supporting sustainability education. She’s also bringing young people’s voices to sustainability discussions. Janna has been involved with education about sustainability issues in Colorado for over 20 years. Prior to co-founding the Alliance in 2004, Janna was a consultant to a number of organizations ranging from the Educational Foundation of America to Project Learning Tree, Population Connection, and Sierra Club. Projects ranged from creating educational materials to researching effective nonprofit efforts and speaking to student and adult audiences, including the media. Janna received a Colorado Energy Champion Award from the Colorado Office of Energy Management and Conservation for green building educational materials and has served on the Governor Romer’s Pollution Prevention Advisory Board. Earlier experiences included a teaching assignment in the US Peace Corps in Dominica, West Indies, and teaching middle school reading/ English classes in CO. She holds a MS degree in environmental education from Colorado State University and a BS degree with honors in education from the University of Colorado at Denver.

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