Boulder getting closer to charging fee for disposable bags at stores

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BOULDER, Colo. -- Boulder moves one step closer to becoming the fourth Colorado town to charge for disposable bags at grocery and convenience stores.

It was expected to approve Thursday night, a 10-cent fee for every plastic and paper bag used by shoppers. But it unexpectedly delayed its decision for two weeks.

CU student Matt Hyder isn’t that opposed to spending money on something he gets for free.

“It’s not too much. But in reality, it kinda sucks, with having to pay for school and other fees,” he says outside a King Soopers store on 30th St. in Boulder.

Starting in July, he and other grocery and convenience store shoppers could shell out a dime for every plastic or paper bag.

It’s a move council is delaying because of a conflict in how much of the fee retailers get to keep.

Originally, the fee was 20-cents a bag and retailers would get to keep 4-cents of it.

Then, council reduced the fee to a dime. But didn’t realize the amount to the retailer was cut in half--to 2-cents.

It amended the ordinance Thursday night to 4-cents. But now has to wait two weeks for a final vote.

The fee is meant to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags and help cut waste and environmental impacts of plastic bags.

“It doesn’t make sense to drill into the ground to get oil, which is a non-renewable resource, to create something we use once--a disposable bag, that ends up in a landfill and the ocean where it’s not biodegradable,” says council member Suzanne Jones.

The city estimates each resident uses on average, 342 disposable bags a year, and recycles between 20-24-percent of them.

“We use them for our garbage cans. We reuse them,” say Boulder resident Stanley Parker.

He thinks the fee is too much government intrusion.

“It makes them feel good. They think they’re saving the earth. They’ve got the carbon tax. They got all these things--nuclear free zone.  If they drop a bomb, their nuclear free zone isn’t going to save us,”  he says.

Some also say reusable bags can harbor dangerous bacteria from food leakage.

But most shoppers like bagging the bags.

“I just moved back from Portland, Oregon. There are no plastic bags allowed in stores. It’s wonderful. They just use paper bags. I’m completely use to using my reusable bags all the time,” says new Boulder resident, Lane Thompson.

“My wife has about 20 bags she brings to the grocery store whenever she can. I’m always forgetting. And I would not forget if there was a 10-cent tax,” says Jeff Randall, visiting his daughter from Boston.

But Hyder says he’s changed his mind about the fee after cashing out at King Soopers.

“I have $63 I can spend on groceries and I spent $62.47. And I had six bags. If they had the 10-cent fee, I’d be over my spending limit for the month,” he says.

Retailers would use money from the fee to keep track of the number of bags customers use and also to train its employees on what to tell their customers.

The city would use the money to pay for reusable bags for low-income residents--as well as to educate the community about the change.

One council member says with this extra time until their next vote on Nov. 15, he’ll push for an outright ban on plastic.

Boulder could follow in the footsteps of Telluride, Aspen and Carbondale.

All three ban plastic bags, but charge 10- 20-cents to use paper bags.