FRISCO — Frisco is taking a stand on disposable bags.
The Frisco Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve on first reading an ordinance that would place a fee on all disposable bags handed out by grocery stores and retail shops in town. If passed on second reading later this month, town officials hope the ordinance serves as a helpful reminder for residents not to leave their reusable bags at home next time they hit the store.
The move comes as a direct result of the town’s strategic plan, wherein the town laid out a number of sustainability goals, including raising the issue of waste reduction and slowing the usage of paper and plastic bags.
“One of our priorities in helping to improve and sustain the environment was to bring forward a discussion about how to discourage the use of one-time bags and encourage the use of reusable bags,” said Nancy Kerry, Frisco’s town manager, who presented the ordinance to the council Tuesday night. “Banning bags in Colorado is prohibited strictly by law. The next best thing is price and the usage of price to change behavior.”
If passed, Frisco will join at least 10 other Colorado municipalities with fees, including Aspen, Fraser and Vail. The ordinance resembles a similar law that went into effect in Breckenridge in 2013, which charges customers 10 cents for most paper and plastic bags throughout town.
Frisco’s ordinance goes a little further, however, as council members felt that the proposed 10 cent fee might not be enough of a deterrent to make a difference. Instead, the town is hoping to implement a 25 cent fee, the highest in the state.
“In (communities) that don’t have a huge influx of visitors shopping, you might see higher rates of success than with people that maybe see it as a necessity and continue to pay it,” Councilwoman Jessica Burley said. “I think 10 cents is increasingly a moot point. It’s no longer the price point that hurts.”
The proposed fee would go into effect Jan. 1 to give retailers sufficient time to educate their customers and implement the process. Stores would be responsible for collecting and remitting the fees, though for the first year, stores would be allowed to keep 50% of any fees collected up to $1,000 a month. After the first year, stores could keep as much as $100 a month. Frisco would collect the rest.
Because the change would be a fee instead of a voter-approved tax, the scope of how the town could spend that money is relatively narrow — requiring the town to use the funds only for expenditures intended to mitigate the effects of disposable bags, including providing reusable bags, education efforts, installing new recycling and waste containers, funding community cleanup days and similar undertakings. The ordinance also requires the establishment of a “disposable bag fee public outreach plan” to help educate consumers about the fee.
Of note, there has been some pushback to efforts to establish fees in other Colorado towns. In 2012, the Colorado Union of Taxpayers sued Aspen claiming the city had essentially passed an illegal 20 cent tax on disposable bags. After years in court, the Colorado Supreme Court gave a decision on the case in May last year, ruling that Aspen’s fee was lawful and didn’t require a public vote.
Disposable bags are defined in the ordinance as “any bag, other than a reusable bag, that is provided to a customer by a retailer at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting goods.” There are some exemptions, including for participants in state or federal food assistance programs and for bags used inside stores for things like produce.
The ordinance will return to the council for second reading and public comment Aug. 27.