Consumers are in for a change at the checkout next spring thanks to city leadership. Last week, Fort Collins City Council members passed a measure that will impose a fee on disposable bags used at retail stores. This law was passed with the intent that the five-cent-per-bag fee will encourage consumers to use reusable bags and reduce the amount of plastic ending up in local landfills. While our community stands to benefit greatly from this law, it has been met with sharp criticism from some citizens, and they have a point. Although it is the job of City Council members to make consequential decisions for our city, I believe that a bag fee bears enough impact on citizens that it should be left for voters to decide in a referendum.
Firstly, while the issue does deserve to be a voting matter, I believe the matter should be passed by the people of Fort Collins because it is beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, it will reduce waste in the city. According to the City of Fort Collins, up to 342 bags are used per consumer per year. While these bags only make up approximately 0.2 percent of the city waste stream, we can all agree that action should be taken to cut down on the 220 tons of these plastic bags that fill our junkyards each year. As residents of a city that pride themselves on being green, taking action through a measure like this to reduce this level of waste is the most responsible choice we can make.
Another reason the bag fee will be a certain success is because it has already been successfully implemented in other areas; take Boulder for instance. According to the Boulder Weekly, the city of Boulder enacted a similar law that mandated charging consumers 10 cents per bag. In just six months, they saw grocery store bag use drop by 68 percent, or five million disposable bags. This kind of example speaks volumes to the amount of success our city can expect from institution of a bag fee. Boulder is not an isolated case, either; similar measures have seen success in Washington D.C. and Austin, Texas. A plastic bag fee is a demonstrable way to successfully reduce waste in a municipality and encourage a greener lifestyle for citizens.
However, while this measure stands to greatly benefit our community, it eliminates the notion of choice for consumers. While disposable bags will obviously remain an option for the foreseeable future, the bag fee paints a clear picture of what their choice should be. The city of Boulder saw a 68 percent drop in disposable bag use after enacting a 10-cent-per-bag fee, so this measure clearly bears the financial weight to influence reluctant consumers. By raising the cost of a bagging option, it throws the choices out of balance. It’s not taking plastic bags away, but it’s providing clear incentive towards other choices. While a greener lifestyle is ideal for many, one must consider: should City Council be mandating certain decisions for consumers?
The bag fee is not something that should be mandated by City Council; an alternative method should be used to pass this legislation in the city. The measure should be presented to voters as a referendum; it is a popular idea that has been successful in areas across the nation, so the legislation would not be difficult to draft. Furthermore, City Council would not have passed this measure in the first place without a noticeable amount of support from the community. At this point, an initiative would be relatively redundant; the approval of the measure from the Council has established there is both significant community support for the idea and no need for additional codification. Presenting the bag fee as a referendum would be the most efficient way to gain approval from voters.
The disposable bag fee is a demonstrably successful way to incentive our community to adopt a greener lifestyle. However, we as citizens should have a say in matters like these that will hit our pocketbooks. For me, this legislation is an excellent step for our city towards a greener future. Nonetheless, we all need to have our voices heard.
Collegian Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org