Opinion | Tony Jones: Let’s talk about Frisco’s bottle law

Frisco has instituted a ban on the sale of water in single use plastic bottles, to go into effect July 2024. On the surface, this appears to be an altruistic effort at showing leadership in the space of plastic reduction and pollution control. But as always with such efforts, the devil is in the details. Folks have taken sides in the debate, some with environmental conservation perspectives supporting the measure (including some businesses) and others bemoaning the loss of business revenue and convenience for Frisco residents.

Personally, even though we use these types of bottles in our household, I’m supportive of the idea on environmental grounds. While the convenience of grabbing a bottled water quickly on the way out the door for a hike or drive can’t be discounted, the few minutes it takes to fill a multiuse bottle is no great hardship either. We’ve seen this “changing the way people do things” movie before, including with the state’s seatbelt mandates and with plastic bag laws that Frisco and the state recently implemented, and, while there may be some grumbling initially, folks adapt.

Restrictions on plastic grocery bags in particular have paved the way for initiatives like this, as those bags also provide consumers convenience but at an environmental cost. One need only travel the recpath or look at the side of the road while driving along Summit County highways to see the cost of that man-made material. Or, looking at this from a global perspective, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a testament to how bad things can get. But, while recycling sounds good on paper, there is evidence that recycling plastics in particular is too complicated to be cost effective or even efficacious in protecting our environment. So it does make sense to address this through a plastics prohibition versus stressing recycling of plastics.

But the companies that produce and sell these bottles make them cheap and easy to use, and that alone will make ridding the world of these products a tough sell. Our household has purchased a case of water before, on sale, for less than three dollars. That low cost, combined with the convenience of the bottles, makes the purchase a microeconomic no-brainer. This convenience over cost issue is addressed in the state’s and Frisco’s plastic bag laws by charging for each plastic grocery bag you take from a store. While an outright ban on the bags might be more environmentally effective sooner, incremental charges to the consumer, sin taxes in essence, can also help move the needle in the desired direction without causing too much hardship up front.

So, regarding this ordinance, I understand the intent and support the effort. But there are a number of downsides to this as well, including issues that question the effectiveness of the effort on the scale of a single mountain town. As has been pointed out, there is nothing to stop folks from over the county or city line from bringing single-use bottles into Frisco, resulting in a shift from whence the bottles came but still creating an environmental impact in the town. There will be short-term pain for businesses as they are forced to compete under different rules than other establishments outside of Frisco, probably not enough pain to cause them to fold but an economic impact, nonetheless.

The grant program for impacted businesses should help dull the pain of transition. Still, going it alone in a state as big and diverse as Colorado is risky. It’d be better if the issue of single-use bottles were addressed statewide. Also, sunset clauses on such ordinances should always be considered to allow for review of the ban’s effects, positive and negative, after a few years to ensure that continuing with it still makes economic and environmental sense. Giving the initiative more time for full implementation would have made sense as well. That might have helped level the playing field for Frisco businesses somewhat by allowing time for other communities to adopt similar measures and for greater adoption of recycling friendly options for beverage containers such as aluminum cans.

Frisco should be commended for their stance and efforts in sustainability. But with this latest effort, is the town joining a growing movement or are they out on the edge of innovation? If the latter, we must remember that it’s often called the “bleeding edge” for a reason. Let’s just hope that the town’s local businesses don’t end up needing a transfusion due to the town trying to do the right thing.

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