Back to the drawing board for Carbondale’s expanded bag ban
- Carbondale Board of Trustees killed a proposed ordinance that would have expanded the plastic bag ban in town beyond the Carbondale City Market, after hearing affected businesses weigh in.
- Store owners were disappointed that their views on the bag ban were misrepresented at the previous board meeting, and took issue with “unfair” aspects of the ordinance.
- The trustees withdrew the ban because it could create unfair competition, and wouldn’t go far enough in reducing single-use plastic bags.
For now, Carbondale’s expanded plastic bag ban is dead.
At its July 23 meeting, the Carbondale Board of Trustees approved a ban on plastic bags for certain stores within the town limits. Board members believed that most of the affected stores favored the ban or would accept it.
During the ordinance’s second reading on Tuesday, Aug. 13, two business owners testified that while they supported environmental efforts to reduce plastic, the ordinance might harm business.
“I’m all in favor of doing the right thing, putting our best foot forward, and saving the environment,” said Federico “Kiko” Peña, owner of Sopris Liquor and Wine.
Peña opened Sopris Liquor six years ago, and has never offered plastic bags. Typically, Sopris provides paper bags or boxes to customers, if they ask.
“I’m six years ahead of this plastic bag curve, as far as I’m concerned,” Peña said. That’s why one of his employees told the Environmental Board (e-board), which drafted the initial ordinance, and the Post Independent that the store was in favor of the expanded ban.
In addition to banning plastic bags, the expanded ordinance would have applied a 20-cent fee per paper bag to the affected stores. An existing ordinance which has Carbondale City Market charge a 20 cent fee for paper bags remains in effect.
“Last week’s newspaper article was the very first time I’d heard about (the ordinance),” Peña said. (He was on vacation when the PI reached out to the store.)
“As one of the only five businesses affected, I kind of feel like that was a lack of respect for me,” Peña said.
Don Boos, CEO of the Roaring Fork Co-op, previously said he wasn’t even sure who the town’s volunteer e-board spoke to at his store, but it wasn’t him.
“As a member of the business community myself, I’m frankly embarrassed that there doesn’t have appeared to have been the degree of diligence reported at our last meeting,” Trustee Lani Kitching said. “That’s on me for not having done a deeper dive on the questioning.”
Heather Henry, the board representative to the environmental board, also apologized, and assured everyone that the lack of communication with business owner’s wasn’t intentional.
“There was never an intention to leave anyone out in the outreach,” Henry said.
The all-volunteer environmental board, Henry said, was doing the best it could on outreach, but had limited time and resources to contact the businesses.
Not just about plastic bags
Several board members said they weren’t withdrawing the ordinance because businesses complained, but because they agreed it wouldn’t have the desired effect.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t pass an ordinance that doesn’t have full support of the businesses that are going to be affected by it,” Trustee Ben Bohmfalk said. “I think if it’s in the best interest of the town, the environment and all that, I think we can pass something even if there’s opposition to it.”
The plastic bag ban didn’t appear to make enough of a difference, especially since some of the stores were already moving away from single use plastic bags.
“The main environmental impact when you go to the store is what’s in the bag, not the bag itself,” Bohmfalk said.
Because the ordinance only applied to businesses above 9,000 square feet, other liquor stores would have a competitive advantage over Sopris Liquor, Peña said.
“You better believe when I start charging for my bags, some customers will go elsewhere. That’s just unfair,” Peña said.
There was also a cultural element: Peña said Latino customers are more cautious about carrying alcohol outside of bags than white shoppers. If he started charging 20 cents for paper bags, those customers would go elsewhere, he said.
Both Peña and ACE Hardware operator Chris Peterson said they had no objection to the plastic ban per se, if it applied to all stores equally.
“If you’re serious about getting plastic bags out of our environment, do it,” Peterson said. ACE is already moving away from plastic bags, and is only offering them now because they still have stock.
Richardson agreed that since several of the businesses affected by the proposed ordinance were already plastic-free, or moving in that direction, the next step should be broader.
“I’m on board with just making it fair and across the board so nobody can use plastic bags,” Richardson said.
The town plans to continue to work with the e-board, and potentially hire a consultant to learn the best way to begin working on a town-wide plastic ban, or other method to reduce single-use plastics.
“(We) need a little bit more homework. I also think that homework is on us so I think we ought to set a future agenda item where we come up with a scope that we would like,” Richardson said.
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