Shoppers in Breckenridge may soon see a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, as the town considers a policy that would implement the charge on disposable totes at all retailers.
"The bags that exist at City Market today (would) continue to exist," Breckenridge Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe said of the proposed law. "But if you use one of those bags you will then be charged 10 cents per bag."
The measure, which would split the fee revenue 50/50 between retailers and the town, is set to go before the council for a first vote Tuesday.
If it passes, the public will have an opportunity to comment on the issue in April before the council takes a final vote on the policy.
It is still unclear when the fee would go into effect.
The proposed law represents a shift away from earlier discussions around a full ban of plastic bags at large grocery stores paired with a bag-reduction program for smaller retailers and a public education campaign on the issues, a plan put forward by a sustainability taskforce.
But council members said they wouldn't support a measure that regulated businesses differently based on size.
"I like the fact that we're treating everyone equally on this," Wolfe said of the bag-fee ordinance, which includes paper bags as research indicates they may actually require more energy to produce than plastic bags do.
It also mandates the town's portion of bag-fee money be used for the implementation and administration of the fee program, education of residents and visitors and purchase and distribution of reusable bags, according to a Breckenridge staff memo.
The reusable bags have been a popular part of the conversation from the beginning. Many community and council members see an attractive reusable bag branded with the Breckenridge logo and provided to tourists free of cost as a potentially powerful tool to inform visitors about the disposable-bag policy and send them home with a meaningful souvenir.
Single-use fees have been adopted at the local level in Telluride, Aspen, Basalt, Boulder and internationally. Some cities where disposable bags are charged have seen a significant decline in use.
The ordinance does not address the use of disposable bags or containers in restaurants, although it's an issue Wolfe said she thinks the town will return to in the future.
Breckenridge residents have expressed mixed, though strong feelings on the bag fee. Some, including many local students interested in sustainability efforts, say the policy is a necessary step to protect the local environment, while others call it a "sin tax" that would inconvenience locals and visitors.
"It's a hard thing for me to swallow," Breckenridge business owner Thos McDonald said at a public hearing on the issue. "I just don't feel like right now in this town, in this community, this is something we need to be focusing on."
But others, including retailers and grocers in town, support the plan. Most of the staff at Food Kingdom Grocery and Liquor is in favor of the fee.
"The less plastic bags we see coming out of there the better," assistant manager Kyle Rouze said.
City Market, the largest grocer in Breckenridge and currently the operator of the only plastic bag recycle center in town, has declined to comment on the issue.
More than 3 million plastic bags are used in Breckenridge each year.