Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley is a Hotbed for Plastic Bag Ordinances

Colorado's Roaring Fork Valley is a hotbed of activity for plastic bag ordinances.  On September 27, 2011, the Town of Basalt voted to place a 20-cent charge on plastic and paper checkout bags.  On October 11, 2011, the Aspen City Council voted to ban plastic checkout bags and place a 20-cent charge on paper checkout bags.  On October 25, 2011 Town of Carbondale adopted an ordinance modeled after Aspen's ordinance.

One of the reasons behind all of this activity in Colorado is the result of a bit of friendly competition.  Back in 2008, Telluride and Aspen took part in a "Aspen-Telluride Reusable Bag Challenge" where residents in both communities competed to see how many times they could bring reusable bags to the grocery store.  Telluride won the competition, which was particularly impressive because Telluride is only half the size of Aspen.  Then Telluride beat Aspen to passing a plastic bag ordinance - Telluride’s ordinance was adopted last October.  No doubt, the competition encouraged Aspen to pass its ordinance.

Aspen still gets something to brag about though.  Aspen's ordinance is a stronger in that it includes a higher charge for paper bags (20 cents in Aspen, 10 cents in Telluride), which should act as a greater incentive for customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Adoption of these ordinances seemed to be moving along very smoothly, but just last week a citizen of Basalt filed the initial paperwork to overturn Basalt’s charge by voter referendum.  If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because that’s what was threatened with Telluride’s ban and, most famously, that's what happened to Seattle’s 20-cent charge back in 2008.  In Seattle, The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax spent more than $1.4 million, which included the American Chemistry Council’s contributions of more than $1 million.  Seattle's charge was the first of its kind in the US and the plastic industry was desperate to not have a precedent for plastic bag charges.  The plastics industry won and Seattle’s bag charge was rescinded.  Since that time, the momentum for passing plastic bag ordinances has regained momentum, but the plastics industry's resistance (particularly in California) still remains strong.

Fortunately, the threatened referendum in Telluride never came to fruition (the final paperwork was never filed) and Telluride's ordinance went into effect on March 3, 2011.

The referendum route (or at least the threat of a referendum) seems to be popular in Colorado, perhaps due in part to relatively small population  sizes in the towns that have passed ordinances, which means that a small amount of signatures are needed to get such issues on the ballot (10 percent of the electorate).  For example, in Basalt the petitioner only has to collect 230 signatures from Basalt registered voters.  Once all of those signatures are collected, the Town Council must decide whether to rescind the ordinance or set an election on the issue.

Regardless, Colorado is moving forward with plastic bag ordinances and inspiring other jurisdictions to do the same.  Up next?  Boulder is considering an ordinance.

- Jennie R. Romer, Esq., Founder & Director,

(This article is re-posted from

UncategorizedJennie Romer