Every retailer in town may have to collect the fee
By Mark Reaman
By a 4-3 vote, the Crested Butte Town Council Monday decided to make the proposed plastic bag ban ordinance more restrictive than previously discussed—to require every retailer in town to charge a fee for recycled paper bags once plastic bags are prohibited.
On Monday, July 18 the council was considering only requiring customers of major retailers such as Clark’s Market to pay the paper bag fee, but four of the seven council members were convinced to make it apply to every retailer in town.
So the council will now consider a new bag ban ordinance on August 2 that bans all plastic bags in Crested Butte with some exceptions, such as bags for books and periodicals, some food products, flowers, artwork, medical marijuana and garbage bags.
There would be a 20-cent fee charged for each paper bag that is distributed by local retailers. That money would be kept by the businesses and the town would not collect or receive any of that money. There would be a two-year phase-in period for the bag ban.
Once fully implemented, stores can supply customers with paper bags made from at least 40 percent recycled content, that contain no old-growth fiber and that are 100 percent recyclable. But they must charge those customers 20 cents per bag.
San Francisco resident and frequent Crested Butte visitor Megan Miles said a majority of tourists in San Francisco accept the city’s ban and business has not declined. “Crested Butte is at the top of the watershed and you are an example for us in the cities,” she said. “It’s a quaint part of a small mountain town.”
Arvin Ram of Townie Books said, “As a member of the retail and the environmental community, I would urge you to pursue the Telluride ordinance.”
Resident and Sustainable Crested Butte member Gabi Prochasca said Crested Butte should do more. “I would like to see an improvement on the Telluride ordinance,” she said. “The improvements we’re recommending would help change behavior. We should improve on the Telluride ordinance and be the model for the next town looking at this direction,” she said.
“Why not increase the fee on paper bags to 20 cents instead of 10 cents? We ask that all retailers have the paper bag fee and not just the large stores like Clark’s. We can be the best example of the next step,” Prochasca continued.
Benjamin Swift, who has led the charge for the ordinance, said tourists won’t go shop in Gunnison or not return to Crested Butte because of the fee on paper bags. He said the group had collected 350 signatures supporting the ban on an online petition. “If big stores like Clark’s can do it, then small retailers can as well,” Swift noted. “We ask that you not just pass a feel-good ordinance. Listen to the voices of your constituency. It’s a small step in the right direction.”
Former councilman Dan Escalante told the council he supported the more restrictive measures. “I think in the big picture we will look back at plastic bags like spraying DDT on children. It’s important. If you pass something tonight that you are totally comfortable with, you’ve probably missed the mark.”
Jana Olslund of The Elk in an Apron store said if the council wanted to change behavior, they could do things like put out more recycling bins along Elk Avenue. “We use 100 percent recyclable bags already and we are in favor of doing what’s right but it is hard to be a retailer in Crested Butte. To add even one more thing just makes it harder.”
Councilwoman Erika Vohman said she supported the 20-cent fee for all businesses. “I think the concept of getting a free bag with a purchase is a bad idea,” she said. “If you want a bag, you should pay for a bag.”
Councilman Paul Merck stated that he wished more homework had been done on the issue.
Councilman Jim Schmidt said after a weekend of watching the news with people being shot, the idea of controversy over the plastic bag ban seemed pretty strange. He said he wouldn’t vote for any ordinance that had the town involved in collecting money. And he said he disagreed with Vohman about bags being given away. “They are functional and everyone uses them,” he said.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said the town should stay out of collections but the discussion had taken so long, she was ready to pass regulations with the exemptions included in the proposed ordinance.
Councilman Roland Mason said if the businesses in support of the ban wanted to really change behavior they should charge $5 for a bag instead of 10 or 20 cents.
Councilman Chris Ladoulis wanted to make sure the town could legally impose a fee but not collect any of the money. He has advocated for a simple bag ban ordinance that wouldn’t be overturned in the future because of too much regulation.
Mayor Glenn Michel asked the council what they wanted to achieve with the ordinance. “Will this ordinance change people’s behavior or get them to think about their behavior? Getting people to think about behavior is a good thing and makes it more than just a feel-good ordinance. That’s being done now. We on the council have to represent the whole town, including the businesses. We put a lot of burden on our retailers. Sales and property taxes are high and I don’t want to impede the business owners. I am ready for the council to make a decision. I think the council can be proud to pass an ordinance banning plastic bags and putting a fee on large retailers for paper bags. It’s gone on long enough.”
But it hasn’t.
As Michel elicited the opinion of the board members it was clear they were all fine with a plastic bag ban with specific exemptions. A 20-cent fee (instead of 10 cents) on paper bags to be retained by businesses was acceptable as well. But regarding who should charge the fee, councilmembers Jim Schmidt, Erika Vohman, Paul Merck and Laura Mitchell wanted every retailer in town to participate. Mason, Ladoulis and Michel wanted to keep it to large retailers that would include just the grocery at this point.
In an interesting move, Ladoulis made a motion for the council to approve the ordinance as proposed Monday night, but without the town collecting the fee. Mason seconded that motion. The council voted 4-3 to turn down that plastic bag ban ordinance, with Ladoulis, Mason and Michel voting for Ladoulis’ motion.
Because the changes in the ordinance were more restrictive than the proposal on the table, the council felt it should essentially start over and have staff rewrite the ordinance. With Ladoulis dissenting, the council voted to give it another try next month.