JACKSON — Elected officials on the Town Council pushed a plastic-bag ban through on the first of three readings, but new insights from the business community left them reconsidering a few nuances of the regulation’s fee structure.
Wes Gardner, owner of Teton Toys, pointed out a technicality in the ban that he believes could undermine its purpose. Once single-use plastic bags are gone, businesses will charge a 20-cent fee for paper bags. But because plastic bags of a certain thickness are still allowed under the ban, and because there is no fee on those bags, businesses could hypothetically use them to skip the hassle of imposing a fee altogether.
“I understand the desire to move forward with this; I don’t want it to get stuck in any administrative mud,” Gardner said. “But I do think it’s important to consider what the marketplace is going to do with the ordinance as it’s written today.”
Councilor Don Frank, noting how casually people throw away plastic of any thickness, agreed this could pose a problem to effectively ridding Jackson Hole of one of its most pervasive waste products.
“This seems like an enormous loophole,” Frank said. “Not sure how we deal with that.”
The simplest answer is to expand the fee to plastic bags as well. But Frank’s colleagues were less convinced of the dilemma.
Councilor Jim Stanford argued that even if a few small-business owners choose to game the system, that strategy will never be cost-effective for the large grocers and retailers that account for the vast majority of plastic-bag consumption.
Stanford added that the town studied similar regulations in towns around the country, and that the problem did not arise elsewhere. He’s confident the research will guide Jackson in the right direction.
“The thorough process that we’ve had will set us up for success,” Stanford said.
Mayor Pete Muldoon suggested they find information on the price of thicker plastic bags before the next reading of the ordinance. If the finances would make Gardner’s loophole cost-prohibitive, Muldoon said, it may be a nonissue.
Rick Howe, vice president of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports the ban but thinks the fee structure could use a bit of reworking.
As it stands, revenue from the fee on paper bags will be split evenly between businesses and the Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling department, which will use it to fund education about the bag ban and cleanup efforts.
But economies of scale dictate that the administrative cost of implementing a fee would likely be a greater burden for small businesses, so Howe urged the council to consider granting them the whole 20 cents. That would also help the town get buy-in from them, he said.
“There’s a huge education platform right there,” he said, “when you have 200 businesses on your side.”
The council will revisit both potential changes during the second reading of the ordinance, at its next regular meeting, scheduled for Nov. 19.