Fraser considers single-use plastic bag fee while Grand Lake store outright bans the bags |

Fraser considers single-use plastic bag fee while Grand Lake store outright bans the bags

What can you do to help your town become more sustainable? Cut down on single-use plastic bags to start.

Local activists from Infinite West, an area environmentalist group formed in Grand County in 2009, are pushing the town of Fraser to do something about excessive use of single-use plastic bags.

“Plastic bags, to me, seem like the low hanging fruit of all of our waste, and all of our plastic use,” said Casey Voigtlaender, board member for Infinite West. “It’s kind of the most ridiculous and unnecessary thing that we all use in our daily lives. With a simple habit change we can totally eliminate them for good.”

Voigtlaender has a point. An estimated two billion disposable bags are consumed in Colorado each year, including more than two million from the Safeway in Fraser and City Market in Granby, according to a county waste diversion study from 2016.

Infinite West has begun efforts to inform the community about the issue, holding informational screenings of the documentary “Bag It” last month in Fraser and Granby, and approaching municipalities to get the ball rolling on more substantial sustainability initiatives.

The idea of a single-use bag ban or fee is already gaining steam in the county. Mountain Food Market in Grand Lake is currently putting plans into motion to begin phasing out the use of most plastic bags this summer, even in the absence of any government mandates.

“I need to do my part to save Mother Earth,” said Brenda Schoenherr, co-owner of the Mountain Food Market. “I have been talking about doing it for years. It was time to put up or shut up.”

Though Schoenherr noted that some of her customers are displeased with the decision, most support the move.

“I would say 90 percent of people who see my little note about it give me fist bumps, high fives or atta-girls,” she said.

But a municipal endorsement could go a long way in reducing the number of single-use bags used in the county. For Fraser’s part, they appear to be on board. Town Manager Jeff Durbin said that talks about a potential fee began five years ago, but were put on hold due to a stalemate on the town board. But talks are heating back up, especially as Fraser prepares to open its new pay-as-you-throw trash and recycling facility, The Drop.

“In the big picture a bag fee really fits into the bigger sustainability strategy, and its getting really solid traction from the town board,” said Durbin.

Durbin, along with assistant town manager and sustainability champion Michael Brack, have been instructed by the town board to move forward with the proposal. Talks have already begun with Safeway, and any sort of policy would likely include a fee, probably in the 10-cent per-bag range, in lieu of an outright ban. This would allow the town to use the revenue from the fee to help support The Drop, and fund other sustainability initiatives like community cleanup days, composting and others.

The town is also planning on selling reusable bags at cost to provide residents and tourists with an easy alternative to single-use plastic.

“We want to discourage people from using those bags, but also provide another revenue stream to help provide recycling facilities, cheaper trash service and education,” said Durbin.

Where things get tricky is in the implementation. Safeway is far and away Fraser’s biggest retailer, and the town fears the bag fee could potentially alienate customers, sending them to Fireside Market in Winter Park or City Market in Granby.

Safeway would also incur a cost if new policy were passed because it’s the organization that would have to administer the program. So if, for example, a 10-cent fee were added, Safeway would likely receive a portion of that profit to offset their added costs.

Despite some uncertainty, the idea of a fee is far from novel. Similar policy changes have already been made in Aspen, Boulder, Breckenridge, Carbondale, Telluride, Vail and other Colorado communities. Earlier this year a statewide 25-cent bag tax was brought before the state legislature to help fund affordable housing efforts, but failed.

Infinite West is focusing their efforts on Fraser at the moment, but eventually would like to see policy changes made county and statewide. Still, while governments work through the details, Voigtlaender says it’s all of our responsibilities to make our own lifestyle changes.

“I think awareness is the biggest part of this,” said Voigtlaender. “I know focusing on plastic bags is something that most people don’t think of, or don’t have time to think of. But having the awareness to notice what you’re using on a daily basis is important. I’d like to encourage people to try it on their own, and see what changes are possible for them and their household.”

Lance Maggart contributed to this story.

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