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Breckenridge Town Council considers raising disposable bag fee to 25 cents

By Summit Daily staff writer Taylor Sienkiewicz

BRECKENRIDGE — At a work session Oct. 8, Breckenridge Town Council members discussed increasing the town’s disposable bag fee to 25 cents and asked town staff to look into the possibility of an outright ban on single-use plastics bags.

The disposable bag fee program, which was implemented in 2013, levies a 10 cent fee on the majority of paper and plastic bags in the town of Breckenridge. 

In a presentation by Community Development Director Mark Truckey and Sustainability Coordinator Jessie Burley, council was told that grocery stores reported a 40% to 50% reduction in the amount of bags they needed to order as a result of the fee. After the fee was enacted, the low point for bags sold in the course of one year was in the low 900,000s, they reported. They also found that the use of disposable bags went up in 2018 to 1 million bags. 

During the presentation, council was told about the current fees and restrictions on disposable bags in other towns and countries. Town staff said Boulder determined disposable bags cost about 20 cents for collection and recycling, so the town based the fees off that cost. They also said Ireland, which has a countrywide fee, just readjusted to about 35 cents per bag. In the mountain west, Frisco charges 25 cents per bag; Aspen and Jackson, Wyoming, charge 20 cents per bag; and Avon charges 10 cents per bag.

Town staff pointed out that adjusting the fee to a higher price is not intended to bring in additional revenue — the bag fund currently has a surplus — but to discourage the use of disposable bags. 

Mayor Eric Mamula asked whether any towns had outright banned disposable bags. Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Moab, Utah, have banned disposable plastic bags and charge a fee for paper bags, town staff said. Mamula suggested Breckenridge look into following the lead of these towns, noting the issues that come up for retail stores and restaurants. 

“I’m not going to ask someone for a quarter when they’re on their way out of the restaurant asking for a bag,” Mamula said. “I’d rather ban them and say, ‘No, the town outlawed them.’”

The mayor asked the planning committee to look into any ramifications of banning bags that the towns of Steamboat and Telluride might have experienced. 

Council members also discussed other options for produce, such as mesh bags, to further decrease the use of plastic in grocery stores. Council member Dick Carleton pointed out that plastic should continue to be allowed in the case of raw meat. Even though meats are packaged, he said, they still can contaminate produce for people with compromised immune systems. 

“I like everything else, and I really like the idea of waiving the fee if they have 100% recycled paper,” Carleton said, referring to another idea of waiving the fee if paper bags are made fully of recycled materials. 

The mayor noted that they would need to gather more information from the retail stores, restaurants and grocery stores in town before deciding on an effective price increase without damaging local businesses. Council will revisit the issue after gathering this information, but for now, council is considering a 25 cent disposable bag fee and discussing banning disposable plastic bags in the future.

“I think this is a broader discussion than just what we have here,” Mamula said.

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