Cooke: FoCo plastic bag ban is an important step for the City

Cody Cooke

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

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Fort Collins is taking a stand against plastic bags. In April, voters approved the Disposable Bag Ordinance, which bans plastic bags in large grocery stores and places a $0.12 fee on paper bags.

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The ordinance will go into effect in May 2022, but students (especially incoming freshmen) should be aware of its implications sooner rather than later.

To understand what the ordinance means for our readers, The Collegian reached out to Molly Saylor, the City’s sustainability specialist, via email.

The ordinance is part of the City’s Zero Waste goal, which plans to “find ways to reduce, reuse and recycle all materials that are currently landfilled” by 2030, according to Saylor.

“Many types of plastic aren’t possible to recycle in our local system, so programs and policies to help reduce the use of single-use plastics in the first place (like the Disposable Bag Ordinance) will probably continue to be part of the conversation,” Saylor said.

Keeping reusable bags for grocery trips not only helps to eliminate waste in landfills but it eliminates clutter in our homes.”

This is a crucial point to keep in mind. Students who take recycling seriously should understand that putting the wrong plastic in the recycling bin can cause problems for recycling facilities. According to the City of Fort Collins website, “The only plastics that can be recycled curbside (in a bin) in Fort Collins are plastic bottles, jugs and tubs.”

That means you should not be putting plastic bags in recycling bins. Students can find ways to reuse them or bring them somewhere to be recycled. Plastic bags won’t disappear from Fort Collins next May, but we can do our best to keep these bags out of landfills.

Along these lines, Saylor offered some useful advice: “College students can take action now by getting in the habit of keeping reusable bags in their cars, carrying a larger purse or backpack for quick shopping trips and thinking about if they need a bag at all.”

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)

I strongly vouch for reusable grocery bags. I didn’t realize how many plastic bags grocery shopping accumulates until I used my own reusable ones for a few months. Keeping reusable bags for grocery trips not only helps to eliminate waste in landfills but it eliminates clutter in our homes.

If students don’t have any reusable bags and don’t think they can afford to buy one, the ordinance has plans for that too.

“Low and medium-income community members will receive free reusable bags from the City to help transition to the new system,” Saylor said. “Some college students may qualify for free bags, but there are also many reusable bags available at our local thrift stores in need of a new home.”

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Saylor also noted that community members might see more awareness about the ordinance from the City and large grocery stores as May 2022 approaches.

The ordinance “only applies to large grocery stores over 10,000 feet and that have the majority of typical grocery store departments, like produce, meat, etc. That means it will not apply to smaller grocers or to other types of businesses,” according to Saylor.

Enforcing this ordinance in large grocery stores is a big step in a sustainable direction. However, it is worth questioning what the total impact will be if smaller grocers or other types of businesses continue to provide plastic bags.

Colorado State University’s book store can serve as an example. I’m sure we all remember those huge, thick plastic bags that held our semester’s preorder of overpriced textbooks. If Fort Collins plans on achieving zero waste by 2030 (less than 10 years away), at what point will these plastic bags be targeted the same way as plastic bags in grocery stores?

This raises the question of how much more CSU can do to communicate sustainable values. Receiving platinum awards in sustainability is one thing, but judging from my experience as a janitor in several campus dorms, there is real work to be done in shifting students’ daily habits, especially where plastic waste is concerned.

Ultimately, the ordinance is a step in the right direction for Fort Collins, but we have a long way to go until Zero Waste becomes a reality. 

Cody Cooke can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.