Fort Collins City Council is closing in on an April ballot measure for a plastic bag ban at large grocery stores.
The measure would also include a 10- to 20-cent fee for paper bags, and it would go into effect in May 2022. If it passes, council would have the authority to expand the policy to include other types of businesses, including restaurants and retailers, and other types of single-use plastics, such as straws and takeout containers.
Adding other types of plastics to the ban would be a 6- to 9-month process including separate community engagement, and the city wouldn’t start that process until “the major impacts of COVID have subsided,” according to city documents.
The initial ban would apply only to single-use plastic bags used to bag groceries at large grocery stores. It wouldn’t include dog waste bags, trash bags or other kinds of single-use plastic bags.
Council is set to vote on a final version of the ballot measure Feb. 2. Four members of council, Mayor pro-tem Ross Cunniff and council members Julie Pignataro, Emily Gorgol and Susan Gutowsky, have consistently supported the measure and are expected to vote in favor of putting it on the ballot. Mayor Wade Troxell and council member Ken Summers oppose the measure.
The city is seeking more community input on the proposed ballot measure. You can share your thoughts in an online survey at ourcity.fcgov.com/plastics.
In a Tuesday work session, council and staff worked to nail down more details about the measure. Most of council agreed that:
- The paper bag fee should be on the lower end of the 10- to-20-cent range to mitigate impacts on lower income residents.
- The fee should be split 50/50 between retailers and the city, with the fee going toward the cost of administering the ban.
- Shoppers who participate in income-qualified federal, state or county assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, shouldn’t have to pay the paper bag fee, and the city should focus distribution of free reusable bags on lower- and middle-income residents.
City staff is asking council to approve one-time funding of $70,000 or $87,500 for policy rollout if voters approve the bag ban. The paper bag fee would become the sole funding source for implementation once it went into effect.
Staff projects the policy would reduce bag use by 75%, judging by results achieved by a plastic bag ban in Palo Alto. Plastic makes up about 10% of the waste Fort Collins sends to landfills, with single-use plastic bags accounting for a small but unspecified portion of all plastic.
However, council members advocating for the ballot measure say the city needs to address single-use plastics to meet its goal of zero waste by 2030. They also expect the measure would reduce littering of single-use plastics.
Summers criticized the proposed ballot measure on a number of fronts Tuesday, including the cost of implementation, plastic bags’ relatively small percentage of the municipal waste stream, insufficient community input and the likelihood that the Colorado General Assembly will soon enact its own statewide regulations on single-use plastics.
State lawmakers introduced a bill in the 2020 session to ban single-use plastic bags and other accessory items from stores and restaurants, but it didn’t reach a vote before the pandemic cut the session short. Summers, a former state lawmaker, said he’s communicated with the bill sponsor and is certain it will pass this year.
“It’s kind of an exercise in futility if you’re going to go to the public and say, ‘Pass this,’ they pass it, and then council says, ‘Well, we can’t really follow what you passed because the state legislature passed something, and now we need to … get our ducks in line with the legislature,'” Summers said.
City attorney Carrie Daggett reviewed council’s options if both the local measure and the state bill secure passage. She said it would depend on how far-reaching the state measure is.
“… The council would have the ability, in light of whatever happens with the state, to make adjustments if need be,” she said. “We could find that what the state does duplicates what we have done, to the extent that our provisions are no longer necessary. But we would want to evaluate that based on what actually is adopted at the state level.”
Several other council members said they were satisfied with that approach. Cunniff emphasized that the point of council action is to give the community the last word on the issue.
“We’re not going to be able to make a perfect decision here,” Cunniff said. “I will say, though, that the voters are going to be the ones making the actual decision. And that’s really important to acknowledge that, by definition, they’ll be right. It’s really up to us to make sure we’ve asked a reasonable question.”
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.