The vote is the first of two required for proposed laws and the council will take a second vote next week before passing the measure to a supportive Mayor Michael Hancock.
If enacted, the fees would come into effect in July and band Denver with at least 13 other cities in Colorado with similar fees or bans in the hopes of encouraging consumers to rely on reusable bags and containers, diminishing their environmental footprint.
The fees aim to replicate the successes enjoyed by other cities across the country.
“In Denver alone, about 200 million bags are used each year and that’s just in Denver,” said Councilwoman Kendra Black, one of the measure’s co-sponsors.
“But based on what we’ve learned from other cities, we expect that will decline by 70%.”
Officials in Boulder, the largest city in Colorado enforcing plastic bag fees, noted that grocery stores there used 68% fewer plastic bags in 2013, just a year after enacting the city’s 10-cent fees.
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San Francisco enacted a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags in 2007 — the first city in the country to do so — and officials now estimate that two-thirds of customers no longer rely on them.
Next year, that city’s fees will increase to 25 cents per bag.
While Denver is late to the game, Council President Jolon Clark — one of the bill’s co-sponsors — has said he hopes the fees represent the first step in a war on plastics. Straws and Styrofoam might be next on the chopping block, he and others agreed.
Denver would collect 60% of the cash brought in by the fees, allocating that money for education, outreach and to offer customers reusable bags, the bill says.
The stores would keep the rest as a way of offsetting any costs they incur while enforcing the new law.
That paradigm is one reason why the measure garnered support of organizations such as the Colorado Retail Council and Safeway grocery stores.
Safeway is committed to reducing the amount of single-use bags used, Kris Staaf, director of public affairs for the grocery chain, said earlier this month.
And Denver officials behind the measure “listened to retailer input and took into consideration our recommendations.”
In addition, the bill allows exemptions for bags that carry garments, meat and some other items.
Nolan Gall, a third-grader at Ashley Elementary School, stood before the council, overshadowed by the larger podium before him. By his side he held a large stuffed turtle and told the group that the sea creatures are beloved by his sister.
Many sea turtles die after mistakenly eating the bags, Gall said, and the council should ban them.
“I want plastic bags not to be a part of America,” Gall said. “Show the world we care about our sea life and oceans. We want sea turtles to exist for a long, long time.”
Jesse Parris, who commonly speaks at council meetings, voiced his support for the fees amid a climate change crisis facing the country, though he noted that the measure would hurt minorities and marginalize poor communities.
The council is expected to hold its second vote on the measure next week.
Published on denverpost.com