On Aug. 6, 2013 the City Council of Durango passed an ordinance by a 4-1 vote concerning reducing the use of paper and plastic bags in large grocery stores because of its harm to the environment.
This ordinance, started by Erich Bussian who passed away last month, implemented a small fee of 10 cents charged to each customer who used plastic or paper bags. This would’ve affected shoppers at stores such as City Market and Albertsons, but was recalled during the last election.
A minority of 344 people called for a referendum of the ordinance, which forced the council to leave the decision up to its citizens through a vote in the upcoming Nov. 5, 2013 election.
According to Durango’s history, this is the first time a referendum has happened, said Ellen Stein, a coordinator for the Bag-It! campaign.
Stein is making efforts to pass this ordinance by organizing weekly meetings and tabling at City Market, Albertsons and Walmart to educate the community.
This ordinance is not banning the use of plastic bags, they are still available at a small fee of 10 cents, Stein said.
It is not a tax or a revenue source, she said.
A small fee provides incentive for citizens, making them more readily aware of their own use of plastic or paper bags, Stein said.
If passed in the next election, the community members can expect to see the fees apply in their superstores as soon as March 2014, she said.
The ordinance states that the fee only applies to stores that have a market area of 25,000 square feet or higher. It will not be impacting small stores.
Durango uses approximately 7 million plastic bags a year. The 10 cent fee will zero out over time with the result of an 80 to 90 percent decrease in plastic bag use.
The City of Durango will take half of the fee, and use it for educational purposes towards the campaign. The City will also use part of the fee to supply Durango residents with reusable shopping bags, she said.
The 10 cent fee will shift from year to year depending on how many customers continue to purchase plastic bags, she said.
The ordinance itself states that the other half of the fee goes to the supermarket retailer to cover costs associated with implementing and complying with the ordinance.
Fort Lewis College student Michaela Steiner has been aiding Stein in raising awareness of the campaign.
“I bought the rights to the Bag-It! movie that inspired the campaign, and I can publicly show it,” Steiner said.
By showing this movie, Steiner is assisting the campaign on campus and plans to show the movie in October, with hopes that it will raise awareness about the invisible impacts of plastic bags, she said.
Steiner has also attended city council meetings and has made reusable bags on campus, by using old long-sleeve shirts from the Environmental Center Free Store.
Rachel Landis, the coordinator of the FLC Environmental Center, supports the Bag-It! campaign and oversees all efforts of educating and advertising on campus.
Although FLC is not affiliated with the Bag-It! campaign, this year it participates in its own fee of 25 cents for each paper to-go box students order on campus in the dining hall, Landis said.
“Last year, around $18,000 was spent in one semester on to-go boxes,” she said.
This year, students have the option of bringing and buying their own reusable to-go boxes or being charged the small fee, she said.
These efforts are made to reduce the cost of waste and purchasing to-go boxes, and to make people accustomed to using reusable to-go boxes, similar to the Bag-It! idea, she said.
Through the Environmental Center, Charlie Shew, the education and outreach intern, helps promote the campaign on campus by tabling and educating students who are old enough to vote in the upcoming election.
“It is a tricky situation and I jumped right on board to promote the second vote,” Shew said.
Customers and companies are all afraid of change, which is why it is important for the community members to understand what the campaign does and doesn't do, he said.
“I think there wasn’t enough knowledge base the first time,” he said. “People thought there was a different motive, but its not a money making scheme.”
The campaign is not aimed to fully reduce plastic waste or production; it is just a step for people to become more aware in the future, he said.