Vail to increase and expand disposable bag fees, bans at start of 2023￼
New fees, regulations to roll out as part of alignment with Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act
Starting January 1, 2023, the town of Vail will implement a new 25-cent bag fee for plastic bags in all grocery and retail stores. The increased fee — alongside other changes — is part of a new ordinance passed on first reading by the Town Council to align the town’s plastic bag regulations with Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.
In 2015, Vail started a “Kick the Bag Habit” program, implementing with it a ban on plastic bags and a 10-cent fee on disposable paper bags at grocers over 4,000 square feet.
According to Beth Markham, the town’s environmental sustainability manager, before the 2015 code change, the two largest grocery stores in Vail distributed around 4.5 million bags per year. With the 2015 fee and ban, the number of paper bags dropped to around 315,000 in 2020 and just over 430,000 in 2021.
Now, with the July 2021 passage of the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, all municipalities in the state are being required to implement disposable bag bans and fees starting Jan. 1, 2023, and rolling out through 2024. The act has four main components:
- A required 10-cent plastic and paper bag fee starting Jan. 1, 2023, for large grocery and retail stores.
- A plastic bag ban for large groceries and retail stores starting Jan. 1, 2024 (stores will be allowed to use remaining plastic bag stock through June 1, 2024, as long as the bags were purchased before Jan. 1, 2024).
- A ban on polystyrene food containers and cups for restaurants and schools starting Jan. 1, 2024 (polystyrene containers purchased by Jan. 1, 2024 may be used until gone).
- Starting July 1, 2024, the state’s ban on what local governments can regulate will be lifted, meaning municipalities and counties can enact, implement and enforce more stringent laws around plastic materials, containers, packaging and labeling.
It will be up to municipalities to enforce these fees and regulations.
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While the ordinance passed on first reading on Tuesday by Vail’s Town Council is meant to repeal its current code and replace it with a new code that abides by the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, there are a few key changes between Vail’s new ordinance and what the state law requires.
The first is the fee itself. While the law requires a 10-cent fee on paper and plastic bags, municipalities are allowed to implement higher fees. That said, Vail will be charging 25 cents per bag.
“The idea with the increased fee is hopefully that would increase the behavior modification as well and really incentivize that behavior change,” Markham said.
The second difference is in how the money from the fee will be allocated. The state law indicates the split should be 60% to the municipality and 40% to the business. However, Vail is reversing this split with 40% going to the municipality and 60% to the business. Currently, the town is keeping 100% of the fees, so under this split, it will be receiving the same funding: 10-cent per bag.
The businesses, Markham said, will be able to use their 15-cent per bag split of the fee to “help implement the program and offset the costs that might be related to that.”
The town uses these funds for waste diversion programs and efforts including town cleanup days, hard-to-recycle events and education programming.
The third (and final) difference is around which businesses will be required to implement the 2024 plastic bag ban and the 2023-imposed disposable bag fee. The state law has exemptions for restaurants and small stores (defined as those will three or fewer locations). However, as Markham put it, the town intends to only exempt restaurants at this time.
Markham said that this decision came as a result of conversations with the business community and stakeholders so that the town closes “the loophole on the small stores and that the ordinance is applied equitably across all retailers.”
Restaurants, Markham added, expressed needing more time to be affected by the regulations.
“The restaurants would greatly appreciate us giving them more time if we want to implement this in the future with them. They were pretty vocal about not being included for the time being and maintaining the exemption,” she said.
While the majority of the Town Council approved this new ordinance — with Council member Kevin Foley dissenting and Mayor Kim Langmaid absent from the meeting — some council members did express frustration and concern over how the new regulations and fees would be received.
One frustration — which stemmed from a concern the town has heard from local businesses, according to Markham — was that businesses cannot cover the bag fee rather than charging customers. The fee must be a line item on the receipt, regardless of the purchase, based on state regulation.
“I feel like our hands are tied to do what the state has told us, but I feel like it’s at the expense of our guest and of our local business. I don’t like it. I understand we have to do it,” said Council member Barry Davis. “I’m just not pleased with the limited options we have.”
This ordinance will return before the council on Tuesday, Dec. 20, for its second reading, after which the first changes will be rolled out on Jan. 1, 2023.
“This is a pretty big step for the state as a whole,” Markham said. “Vail has been a leader in plastic bag reduction and waste diversion initiatives, and we can continue to do so.”