On May 1, 2012, the City of Aspen implemented an ordinance, banning single-use plastic bags, and mandated a 20-cent fee for paper bags. The plastic bag ban does not include bags for prescriptions, fruit, vegetables, bulk items, flowers, frozen food, baked goods, dry cleaning and newspapers. Although some community members are worried that the ban on plastic bags will increase paper bag production, the City feels that a 20-cent fee is costly enough to eventually discourage paper bag sales. The fee is also being used to cover implementation costs of this program.
One of the main issues cities confront is how to reduce accumulated waste. Toxic chemicals derived from the degraded plastic can be released onto ground surfaces and into waterways. Even recycling programs can pose a problem since many do not automatically accommodate plastic bags. Plastic bag reduction programs present cities with the opportunity to reduce a very common waste product and set a foundation for future collaboration between residents and city agencies.
The revenue from the paper bag fee is distributed primarily to two different sources:
- 25% of the revenue or $1,000 a month for the first year and then $100 a month thereafter, goes to the grocers to cover implementation costs. In an attempt to strengthen Aspen’s pollution awareness campaign, the money the grocers collect can only be used to provide customers with educational information on the Waste Reduction Fee and train staff on how to educate and administer the fee.
- The remainder will bolster the City’s Waste Reduction Program’s mission to provide more reusable bags for the community (the local grocers are currently selling canvas bags from 79-cents to $5), and create educational materials to inform the community of the environmental hazards of plastic bag and paper bag use.
City of Aspen’s Waste Reduction Program is planning ongoing campaigns to build infrastructure that allows Aspen to reduce waste and generate awareness within the community about the importance of waste reduction, and purchase equipment designed to minimize trash pollution such as recycling containers. Aspen is also encouraging regional consistency, which is predicted to strengthen the scope of this behavioral change.
Aspen grocers were initially cautious about the ban, suggesting that a plastic ban would be more equitable if it affected retail stores as well. However, it appears that Aspen residents are accepting the ban and welcoming the positive step toward reducing city litter and consumption. Using grocer calculations and staff audits, the City will track and record the amount of bags that have been reduced. An annual audit will help to determine the effectiveness of this program. Additionally, the ban is encouraging other cities to follow suit including Boulder, Colorado. Boulder is currently considering implementing a fee on plastic bags.
Additional information on this case study:
Category: Health and Safety
Issue: Waste Reduction
Community Type: Amenity
Location: Aspen, CO
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