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Leibee: The plastic bag ban would be a positive step forward

a photo illustration of plastic bags
Plastic bags are controversial because they are viewed as wasteful and take an extraordinarily long time to break down. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

As another election looms over the Fort Collins community like a dark cloud, many are still recovering from the November election that drained everyone’s energy and time. However, there are still important issues coming up on the ballot in Fort Collins, including a possible ban on plastic bags in stores.

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On Feb. 16, City Council adopted the final ordinance to put a ban on plastic bags on the April 6 ballot. The ordinance says “City Council has also identified plastics pollution as a priority concern, which aligns with the (Climate Action Plan) goals of reducing greenhouse gasses and with the community’s Road to Zero Waste goal to produce zero waste by 2030.” The ordinance would ban grocers from providing plastic bags in stores and put a fee on paper bags.

The main issue here is plastics pollution. Fort Collins wants to reduce waste to zero by 2030. Since plastic makes up “10% of waste landfilled as ‘municipal solid waste,’” the plastic bag ban would be a positive step for the Fort Collins community.

The danger of single-use plastic bags is not a new concern, and it is unsurprising that cities are finally taking steps to reduce plastic. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, a typical American family will use about 1,500 plastic bags every year. Most of those bags end up in landfills, so it is understandable why cities took matters into their own hands. 

According to Colorado law, local governments are not allowed to prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags, but Aspen and Telluride already have plastic bag bans. Fort Collins, as a home rule city, has the authority to make decisions of local concern.

While this walks the line of not meaningfully considering the low-income community in the implementation of an environmental policy, it is a problem that can easily be solved by still offering bags to those that need it, while giving a much needed push to those that don’t.

The ban would decrease our use of single-use plastic, encouraging a more sustainable lifestyle in a simple step. There would still be options for those that need the convenience of plastic bags while pushing those that don’t to use their own. 

This ban is understandably a concern of environmental justice. The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” 

Many are skeptical of the change because of its effect on low income communities. Specifically, some worry it is an unnecessary burden for everyone to have to carry around one or two reusable bags, and not everyone has a way to clean them. Further, if they are lost or stolen, it creates even more of an issue. However, people in those communities will be able to get exemptions, such as a benefit card to prove their low income status, according to section 12-305 of the ordinance.  City staff have also discussed stores keeping a stock of free reusable bags to hand out for those that don’t have one or need another. 

While the ban walks the line of not meaningfully considering the low-income community in the implementation of an environmental policy, it is a problem that can easily be solved by still offering bags to those that need them while giving a much needed push to those that don’t.

Another concern is that these bags are not necessarily single-use. Many people could probably show you the cabinet they have in their kitchen full of plastic bags that they use for collecting garbage, disposing of pet waste or any other necessity. However, again, this is merely a matter of convenience, not total necessity. People do reuse these bags, just not as often as we need to make an environmental impact. 

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This is not the first time that single-use plastics have been phased out. Starbucks has switched over to lids that don’t require straws to avoid single-use plastics. While it was an adjustment at first, and many complained of inconvenience, we have adjusted to it. I personally carry my own reusable straw everywhere, and now that I am in the habit, I almost never use plastic straws anymore. However, it did take the nudge of them not being provided to me so easily.

This is a ban that, with careful consideration of the populations it effects, could be a major step toward making Fort Collins a more sustainable city.

Katrina Leibee can be reached at letters@collegian.com or Twitter @KatrinaLeibee.

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Katrina Leibee
Katrina Leibee, Editor-in-Chief
Katrina Leibee is serving as The Rocky Mountain Collegian's editor in chief for the 2021-22 academic year. Leibee started at The Collegian during the fall of her freshman year writing for the opinion desk. She then moved up to assistant opinion editor and served as the opinion director for the 2020-21 academic year. Leibee is a journalism and political science double major, but her heart lies in journalism. She enjoys writing, editing and working with a team of people to create the paper more than anything. Ask anyone, Leibee loves her job at The Collegian and believes in the great privilege and opportunity that comes with holding a job like this. The biggest privilege is getting to work with a team of such smart, talented editors, writers, photographers and designers. The most important goal Leibee has for her time as editor in chief is to create change, and she hopes her and her staff will break the status quo for how The Collegian has previously done things and for what a college newspaper can be. From creating a desk dedicated entirely to cannabis coverage to transitioning the paper into an alt-weekly, Leibee hopes she can push the boundaries of The Collegian and make it a better paper for its readers and its staff. Leibee is not one to accept a broken system, sit comfortably inside the limits or repeat the words, "That's the way we've always done things." She is a forward thinker with a knack for leadership, and she has put together the best staff imaginable to bring The Collegian to new heights.

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