Outrage In Cheyenne As City Considers Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags

Many Cheyenne residents are angry over a city councilman's proposal to ban single-use plastic bags and to charge customers for paper bags.

Leo Wolfson

August 18, 20236 min read

Shari Worley of Cheyenne bags her groceries at a self checkout lane at the Cheyenne King Soopers store on Thursday.
Shari Worley of Cheyenne bags her groceries at a self checkout lane at the Cheyenne King Soopers store on Thursday. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Cheyenne City Council President Richard Johnson awoke to a rather demeaning email on Thursday morning, in response to his proposed ordinance to limit single-use plastic bags in his city.

“Dear Dick,” the email from Adam Towns reads. “Screw you and your taxing of plastic bags. Stupid liberal crap like that is partly why my wife and I moved here from Fort Collins with our children.”

The email goes on to outrageously accuse Johnson and the ordinance cosponsors on the plastic bag ban of engaging in sexually explicit acts together and told him his “parents must have been prophetic to give you such an apt name.”

“It was a great way to start my day,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Not The First

A handful of communities around Wyoming have considered bans of single-use plastic bags in the past.

In 2019, Jackson enacted a ban on single-use disposable plastic bags less than 4 millimeters thick. All retailers collect a 20-cent fee for each disposable paper bag or reusable plastic bag provided to a customer.

In 2020, the Laramie City Council approved a resolution to shrink and regulate retail-use plastic waste within the city.

At a Green River City Council meeting in January, a resident proposed a similar ordinance there, but no action was taken on the idea.

More discussion was given to a similar proposal before the Park County commissioners in 2021, but no action came of the proposal there, either.

This year, the state of Colorado went live with its plastic bag law that requires everyone to pay 10 cents for a single-use plastic or paper bag at stores. The law allows municipalities with existing laws on their books to charge more for bags if their local fees are already higher.

What The Cheyenne Plan Would Do

Under the proposed Cheyenne ordinance, retail establishments would only be allowed to provide reusable paper grocery bags and cardboard boxes, and businesses would need to charge customers a 10-cent fee for each paper grocery bag used.

Johnson said stores like Natural Grocers and Sam’s Club have already stopped offering plastic bags.

Plastic laundry cleaning bags would still be allowed, and restaurant and food establishments would be allowed to use bags and plastic containers to wrap their food. But they would not be allowed to provide plastic bags to customers.

Half of the 10-cent fee would be retained by the business and the other half would go to the city for “use by the department in implementing and enforcing the requirements of this chapter for the purposes of promoting this chapter and for public education regarding sustainability.” 

Groceries are bagged at King Soopers in Cheyenne.
Groceries are bagged at King Soopers in Cheyenne. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

What’s The Inspiration?

Johnson said he’s driven to enact the plastic bag ban not out of environmental concerns, but costs to the city from its landfills filling up. He said staff from the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities has told him that “airspace is the most valuable asset we have.”

He said 250 tons of garbage are added to the city’s landfills each day. A retired landfill, he said, costs $28 million over 30 years to mitigate and manage. That means it’s imperative to extend the life of the municipal landfill as long as possible.

“The longer we can keep the landfill going the longer we can save the city money and reduce the amount of trash going into the landfill,” Johnson said.

But Johnson also has environmental concerns as well. He mentioned spring cleanup efforts he has performed along Cheyenne’s Crow Creek where there were bags left over from the previous fall.

“When you try to pick it up it breaks into a million pieces,” he said of these old bags. “It’s a danger to fish and wildlife.”

He said there are also risks to cattle and other animals who drink from water infested with plastic pieces, which can get stuck in their digestive tracts. 

Johnson also said that Wyoming, a state with powerful winds and large open spaces, has gained a reputation for its errant plastic bags when stuck in a tree or bush, mockingly referred to as the “Wyoming flag.”

What’s The Reaction?

Johnson said there’s an even split on the council about the ordinance and that Mayor Patrick Collins, who could cast a tie-breaking vote, fully understands the matter and “is definitely looking at it.”

He said the reaction from the public has been about the same.

A Facebook poll taken by Cheyenne resident Joe Shogrin drew 598 votes, with 92% saying they oppose the ordinance.

“This is stupid,” said resident Linda Kundson. “I left California to get away from this sort of thing. We need to vote out whoever is trying to do this.”

Knudson said those who strongly oppose plastic bags should bring their own reusable bags and stop buying all products that have plastic in them.

That’s what Shari Worley said she’ll do if the ordinance becomes law in the city.

Cowboy State Daily caught up with Worley bagging groceries into plastic bags at a self-checkout station at King Soopers in Cheyenne on Thursday afternoon. Worley said she wasn’t aware of the ordinance, but that she would be fine if single-use plastic bags were banned.

“I think it’s OK, even though I use them when I shouldn’t,” she said.

She said paying a fee for bags isn’t outrageous and is done in many other cities, and that she would feel fine bringing her own bags.

The ordinance was introduced this week and referred to the city’s Finance Committee, which will consider it Monday. The ordinance will come back before the council for at least one more reading. 

Along with plastic bags, Johnson has brought two proposals to the council this year supporting marijuana decriminalization and is planning another that will prohibit covenant restrictions on xeriscape landscapes. He also said he wants to address affordable housing. He also opposed an ordinance aimed at curtailing homeless populations near Crow Creek.

“People could say I’m progressive, I’d say I’m proactive,” he said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter