Steamboat plastic bag ban stands, fee for paper dropped
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:40 on Wednesday, April 1, to clarify that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, on March 25, called “upon municipalities in our state to temporarily suspend plastic bag fee ordinances for 30 days.”
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs City Council ban on single-use plastic bags by grocery stores remains in effect, but the 20-cent fee for paper bags has been temporarily lifted.
Resuable shopping bags are still permitted.
On March 25, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis asked municipalities to suspend plastic bag fees for grocery stores for 30 days.
However Polis’ statement was more of an encouragement and not a mandate. Communities across the state — and country — have responded differently to the issue, from banning reusable bags and bringing back plastic to keeping the plastic ban and encouraging washing of reusables.
Council passed the emergency ordinance to lift the 20-cent fee in a six to one vote on Tuesday.
It is in effect until the end of the city’s emergency declaration — April 15 — or 90 days, whichever comes first. The city’s emeregency declaration will likely be extended.
The majority of City Council did not want to backtrack on the effort and public buy-in it took to ban plastic but supported lifting the paper bag fee.
Council member Kathi Meyer voted against the ordinance, citing the recommendation from Routt County public health officials, who City Council President Jason Lacy said supported the governor’s recommendation to also bring back plastic.
“There is not enough scientific merit to reintroduce plastic,” said council member Sonja Macys. “We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time working with stores.”
The research on the effectiveness of a plastic bag ban to curb the spread of COVID-19 is in too early of a stage to be conclusive, and all over the map in terms of the available data and opinions.
Lacy emphasized that local public health officials did not feel it necessary to ban reusable bags.
There isn’t any evidence showing reusable bags have any more potential to spread the virus than clothing or handbags, Lacy added, referring to his communication with public health officials.
There is, however, a public messaging push underway for people to regularly wash their reusable bags. There is also a push to have people bag their own groceries, especially with reusable bags.
According to a letter sent to council by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, “Research indicates that single-use paper bags will more likely limit COVID-19 contamination risk than single-use plastic bags. One recent study indicates that coronavirus may in fact remain infectious on plastic (and steel) for up to three days, compared with 24 hours for cardboard (and four hours for copper). Another recent study reports that coronavirus could remain stable on plastic for up to 9 days. These studies did not explicitly examine how long the virus remains infectious on cloth (pertaining to reusable bags), they do however suggest that paper bags are preferred if the city is trying to limit COVID-19 exposure.”
The Sustainability Council advocated for only eliminating the fee for paper bags.
Commenting through email in the era of virtual meetings, a majority of the public comments reflected that same position — keep the plastic ban, lift the fee — while acknowledging the importance of protecting public health.
Numerous comments cited the science available at this time showing that COVID-19 lives longer on plastic than cardboard.
Many of the comments echoed the same sentiments as the following statement from Tina Evans: “The virus has been shown to survive a much shorter time on cardboard than on plastic, and paper bags are made from the same cellulose material as cardboard. I also encourage you to allow the use of reusable bags for those who want to continue using them, with the provision that those who use their own bags wash them regularly and bag their own groceries.”
Many commenters also cited the work it took to institute the plastic bag ban, especially by young people. Lulu Gould wrote, “How will you explain to all the youth and adults who worked very hard on this ordinance that literally inspired thousands of people to get on board with little to no true backlash? Without any real evidence that this will help, that is a dangerous route to take as far as the credibility of your voices and votes going forward.”
Meyer noted that when she went shopping at Safeway recently, they were already offering her paper or plastic.
Winnie DelliQuadri, assistant to the city manager, reported she had been in touch with all grocery stores, and that there was confusion about what Polis’ statements meant, in addition to the messages local grocers were getting from their corporate headquarters. Some interpreted it as a state mandate, she said, and so acted quickly. DelliQuadri said all grocers are acting in good faith and are willing to do whatever they are supposed to be doing.
Of the 20 cents grocery stores charge for paper bags, they were required to give 15 cents of that to the city. The city has been collecting approximately $8,000 per month through that fee, which goes into the Waste Reduction and Recycling fund.
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