Boulder Rethinks Disposable Bag Tax and Other Plastic Waste Measures – Boulder Daily Camera

Backed by new state law, Boulder is reworking its disposable bag fee program and considering other measures related to ending the use of single-use plastics.

The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, signed into law last summer, is phasing out single-use plastic bags, polystyrene cups and containers, and reversing a law that prohibits municipalities from passing individual ordinances to combat pollution. plastic waste.

With the statewide disposable bag tax slated to take effect in early 2023 and the other phased measures the following year, Boulder climate staff are beginning to plan for the law’s effects on town.

At a meeting Aug. 18, climate staff recommended raising the citywide disposable bag fee, which has been in effect in Boulder for nearly a decade, to 20 cents per bag in all retail stores in town and phasing in smaller stores that are not currently participating in the program.

With Governor Jared Polis’ signing last summer, Colorado became the 10th state to ban single-use plastic bags in some stores and the eighth to ban foam food containers.

The statewide change has long been advocated by Boulder staff and Eco-Cycle, a Boulder-based nonprofit recycling organization, who both recognize the extent of the nation’s plastic problem. .

Jamie Harkins of Boulder’s Climate Initiatives department pointed to a recent Beyond Plastics report, which showed that 130 plastic manufacturing plants nationwide emit at least 114 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

This is not a problem that recycling alone can solve.

“We cannot recycle our solution to this problem. Only 9% of the plastic ever produced on this planet has been recycled,” said Randy Moorman, director of legislative and community campaigns for Eco-Cycle, in a press release at the time of the bill signing.

“Colorado’s new law helps us implement systemic change to turn off the tap and stem the tide of plastic consumption, especially of unnecessary plastic items like single-use bags and polystyrene take-out containers” , added Moorman.

The state’s plastics bill also overturned municipal preemption, allowing Boulder to create policies as stringent as the state or stricter.

“So far, local governments have been prevented from regulating plastics,” Harkins said. “However, with this repeal of preemption, those policy options will expand for us.”

It is also beneficial as the city continues to examine what else it can do to reduce plastic use in Boulder.

“As we think about our circular economy goals and the role a city can play in accelerating this transition, it’s really essential to have a longer-term plan to phase out disposable plastics that don’t have great value,” Harkins said.

Boulder has implemented its own disposable bag tax since July 2013, when it instituted a 10-cent tax on all disposable plastic and paper checkout bags to be charged at all Boulder grocery stores , regardless of the size of the institution.

Stores keep 4 cents, while 6 cents are returned to the city. Since it is a fee and not a tax, the revenue can be directed towards reducing the impacts of disposable bags.

For that reason, it’s in a good place.

“We’re ahead of the game,” Harkins said. “A lot of towns in Colorado don’t have a system in place. They don’t have the tax forms. We already have everything in place.

The Aug. 18 city council generally expressed support for the staff’s recommendations.

However, some have expressed concern about the overall effectiveness of the disposable bag fee in its goal of eliminating the use of disposable bags in stores.

“What distressed me a bit is that the number doesn’t seem to be going down,” council member Bob Yates said.

Indeed, according to city data, bag usage has remained at a relatively constant level with approximately 4-4.5 million bags used each year across all stores, translating into average fee revenue. bag of about $60,000 per quarter.

In addition, others encouraged creativity, given the community’s undeniable desire to fight climate change. More than a third of respondents prioritized it in a recent citywide survey, council member Nicole Speer noted.

“Incentive behavior is a much more effective tool for individual behavior change than sanctions,” Speer said.

Board members Mark Wallach and Junie Joseph agreed.

Wallach noted that the city opted against higher baggage fees about a decade ago and wondered if circumstances have changed.

“For well-heeled people, it’s a rounding error,” he said. “For people who aren’t, it gets a little heavier.”

Harkins said not much has changed other than the throwaway culture. More people are recognizing its importance, and the city has spent a decade distributing reusable bags to the community, she noted.

Additionally, Boulder has an exemption for buyers on food assistance.

In terms of creativity, there’s less wiggle room when it comes to disposable bag fees, said Director of Climate Initiatives Jonathan Koehn. However, the city will have much more capacity for innovation when it comes to developing ideas to tackle single-use plastics.

Going forward, the city will present a disposable bag fee ordinance for adoption by the city council and begin to conduct education and communication activities with the community and local businesses. It will also use its Racial Equity Instrument, a process intended to determine the impact of citywide decisions.

It can start rolling out single-use plastic solutions next summer. In the meantime, the city plans to develop a plan and engagement process to explore various options. All ideas will be forwarded to City Council for consideration.

Bryce K. Locke