Boulder, Colorado Proposes Fixed Charge on Grocery Bags

Grocery BagsBoulder City Council recently approved an ordinance, under which shoppers will have to start paying a fee for disposable grocery bags from July, 2013. After multiple concerns were raised about the proposed fee, council members have decided on a fixed charge of 10 cents – half of the original proposed amount. This fee will be charged on both paper and plastic bags. The goal is to get Boulder citizens to switch from disposable to reusable bags.

Mixed reactions within citizens and council members

When the City Council approved the 20-cent charge at its first reading, it raised a lot of controversy.  Initially, several council members even favored a complete ban on plastic bags. Consultants from TischlerBise Inc. looked into the city’s direct and indirect expenditure on waste management. They compared this with the cost of administering a bag fee and proposed a 20-cent charge.

Participants in public meetings expressed their support for this charge, but a majority of online comments opposed it. A conflict of interest arose amongst grocery shop owners as well. Most grocers feel that this new fee could help reduce the plastic waste that keeps piling up, while some feel that their customers would be more open towards educational approaches than a fee on plastic bags.

On its second reading, the City Council of Boulder decided to cut down the proposed charge in half. The change in the initial amount was supported by 5 out of 8 council members. All, but one council member voted in favor of the fee implementation.  Before the public hearing, there will be a third reading because this ordinance represents an important change.

City to distribute promotional reusable bags

Several citizens, including some members of Boulder’s volunteer Environmental Advisory Board, raised concerns about the effect this fee might have on low-income families. In response to this, city officials expressed their plan to use the revenue from the fees to buy wholesale reusable bags if the ordinance is enacted. These bags will be distributed to low-income residents of Boulder city. The city’s staff is also looking for ways to exempt people on government food assistance programs from paying the fee.

This fee will be implemented in all grocery and convenience stores unless their food sales account for less than two percent of their business. The retailers will also get to keep some amount from this fee to cover their costs and the rest will go to the promotion of reusable bags. The city fully supports the education of shoppers about the advantages of reusable grocery bags. City officials have promised to give some time to Boulder city residents to adjust their shopping habits.

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