Breckenridge talks banning plastic bags

Plastic bag in hand, a customer leaves a store in Frisco, Colo. on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019.
The town of Breckenridge is taking the issue of disposable bag use a step past charging a fee and plans to ban all plastic bags by the end of summer 2021.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

BRECKENRIDGE — Plastic bags could be banned in Breckenridge by next fall. While council didn’t agree on every detail, all council members are in agreement to ban plastic in some capacity rather than continue the plastic bag fee. The topic was brought up by Sustainability Coordinator Jessie Burley, who, at the council work session on Tuesday, Sept. 8, asked the council a series of questions regarding the bag fee. 

Burley went over the history of the disposable bag ordinance, which was enacted in 2013 and created a 10 cent fee for disposable plastic and paper bags. Burley explained that there was a dramatic decrease in disposable bag use during the first few years of the bag fee being imposed. Burley added that while bag use has increased over the years, it hasn’t increased nearly to the extent that sales tax revenue has increased. She noted that last year, 1 million bags were distributed, not including retailers that are exempt from the fee. Annually, $40,000 to $60,000 are raised per year from the bag fee. In March, the bag fee program was suspended due to COVID-19 concerns. 

Burley asked if the council wanted to reinstate the bag fee and most council members agreed. While Mayor Eric Mamula said he doesn’t want to change anything going into the winter, he was outnumbered. In addition, Mamula opted for a ban on plastic bags. 

“I don’t think the fee does anything,” Mamula said. “I haven’t liked it from the beginning. I think it’s, ‘Do we want plastic bags or not?’ I say we ban them. I say beginning in … July of 2021 or the end of summer 2021 we ban plastic bags, period. End of story. There is no fee, everybody moves to post-consumer, recyclable 40% paper bags.”

Burley said that while the fee originally reduced the number of bags given out, the fee has had less of an impact over time. Council member Jeffrey Bergeron agreed that plastic bags should be banned and said stores should only use paper bags made from 40% recycled content, which should continue to cost customers 10 cents. Council member Kelly Owens said the plastic bag ban should start at the end of next summer to give everyone a chance to get rid of existing bags and to hopefully be in a better place with COVID-19. 

Council member Erin Gigliello questioned if the town was still encouraging a bag culture by continuing to use paper bags and suggested the model stores like Natural Grocers use where no bags are offered, but customers can use leftover boxes from the store if needed. Council member Dick Carleton was pro-plastic ban next fall but suggested only charging fees on bags in grocery stores. 

“I think in retail and restaurants, we’re not there yet so I think that seems odd to people,” Carleton said. “But grocery, I think it’s pretty common all over the country at this point.”

Town attorney Tim Berry pointed out that a state statute precludes a ban on plastic bags. However, Burley’s memo to council explained that other communities have banned plastic, such as Aspen, Telluride and Steamboat Springs, despite the statute. 

“I’m hearing very clearly that council would like to ban plastic,” Berry said. “We will look at it, but I just want to raise the issue on the preemption.”

“I’m willing to stick my neck out,” Mamula said in response to Berry.

Discrepancy came as Bergeron said he is referring to a plastic bag ban in grocery stores while Mamula said he wants plastic bags banned systemwide. However, the council all agreed that there would be an exemption on plastic bags for produce and meat for safety.  

It was decided that the bag fee would be reinstated at 10 cents per bag — but not raised — on Wednesday, Sept. 9, and that all plastic bags would be banned by the end of next summer.

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