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E-Board recommends expanding ban on plastic bags

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Town wide

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Carbondale’s Environmental Board this week recommended that the town expand its ban on plastic shopping bags to include all businesses, instead of just City Market, the town’s largest grocery store and its biggest generator of sales tax revenues.

The E-Board, as it is known, on Monday approved a proposed ordinance to be sent on to the town’s Board of Trustees.

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It was the E-Board that came up with the town’s existing bag ban, passed in 2011, which outlaws the use of plastic shopping bags by all grocery stores larger than 3,500 square feet, and requires grocery stores to charge a 20-cent fee on any paper grocery bags handed out to customers who do not have a reusable bag for their purchases.

A portion of that fee can be retained by the grocer, for use in educating consumers about the bag ban, under the original ordinance.

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The proposal to expand the bag-ban came up during an April 21 work session of the board of trustees and the E-Board, where it was mentioned by Trustee A.J. Hobbs, who also sits on the E-Board.

Trustee Frosty Merriott also raised the possibility of banning plastic water bottles within town limits, but there was no supporting discussion by the two boards.

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The ordinance forwarded by the E-Board to the trustees would be an amendment to the 2011 law, applying it to “any business operating within town limits,” as part of the town’s “duty to protect the public health, safety and welfare, including the natural environment and the health of its citizens and visitors,” according to the text of the proposed ordinance passed on Monday night.

The proposal is based on the E-Board’s finding that “the use of all single-use shopping bags (plastic and paper) has several environmental impacts on a local and global scale, including greenhouse gas emissions, litter, harm to wildlife, atmospheric acidification, water consumption and solid waste generation.”

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The language of the proposed ordinance also concludes that, despite efforts to the contrary, “very few disposable carryout bags are recycled” and end up in landfills or swirling around in the winds and the oceans, blocking storm drains and creating other environmental problems.

The E-Board estimates that fewer than five percent of the roughly two-billion bags used every year in Colorado are recycled.

The board also concluded that the use of disposable paper bags is only marginally better than plastic, “because the production of these types of bags contributes to natural resource depletion (in the form of trees cut down for pulp), greenhouse gas emissions and waterborne wastes.”

Plastic bags also are known to be a constituent component of large, swirling masses of ocean-born trash that are concentrated in what are known as “gyre” currents, most notably in the Pacific Ocean.

According to the Smithsonian Institute’s “Ocean Portal,” a website dedicated to oceanic information, the North Pacific Gyre is formed by four major ocean currents converging together, and is also known at the “eastern Pacific garbage patch.”

First publicly discussed in the 1990s, the patch is estimated to contain up to eight million metric tons of plastic trash, which can drown or otherwise incapacitate fish and birds when they are entangled in the mess.

One aspect of this garbage patch, according to the Ocean Portal (or OP) information, is that, while the plastic does not biodegrade, it is slowly disintegrated by the sun’s light and heat into tiny particles that are being eaten by fish and fowl and even becoming hosts to a new kind of “microbial ecosystem” that the OP describes as having an “unknown effect” on the larger ecology.

One way to combat the growth of the patch, the OP reports hopefully, is the banning of plastic shopping bags by governments around the world.

The new ordinance, if approved by the trustees, would be effective as of Jan. 1, 2016, and would mandate that “disposable plastic bags shall not be sold or distributed, retail or wholesale, within town limits by any business.”

The ordinance leaves it to business owners whether they want to sell or give away renewable bags to customers, and establishes penalties for violation of the amended bag ban.

The ordinance calls for “large retail businesses” to continue to sell disposable paper bags to customers at a cost of 20-cents apiece, and to record the number of such bags sold and the amount of cash collected through the sales.

Published in The Sopris Sun on June 25, 2015. 

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