updated 2/25/2009 4:38:51 PM ET 2009-02-25T21:38:51

Colorado shoppers will be able to keep using plastic grocery bags after lawmakers balked at what would have been the nation's first statewide ban on the synthetic sacks.

A state Senate bill banning the use of plastic bags by large retailers by 2012 was defeated Tuesday after a handful of Democrats joined with Republicans in voting against it.

Critics argued that the ban would inevitably lead to increased use of paper bags, which they argued take more energy to produce and take up more room in landfills than cheaper, lighter plastic bags.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, said no other states have passed such bans yet and thinks Colorado lawmakers were wary of being the first. She said many were also contacted by constituents who didn't want to have to give up their bags.

The original bill proposed that stores charge customers 6 cents for every plastic bag they use between now and 2012. But the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee got rid of the fee at the request of Veiga.

Dick Brown, executive director of Colorado Recycles, had feared the ban could hurt new efforts to recycle other kinds of plastic bags not covered by the ban, such as newspaper delivery bags and dry cleaning bags. He said many supermarkets now accept all kinds of bags, in addition to their own, for recycling but that could end with a ban.

Other states eye idea
Lawmakers in several other states — Hawaii, Missouri, New Jersey and New York, among them — are considering similar bans this year.

Nine others are considering adding fees to plastic bags, ranging from 3 cents in Vermont to 25 cents in California, said Douglas Shinkle of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Colorado's measure was opposed by supermarkets, big box stores and department stores. It wouldn't have applied to smaller stores and franchise operations.

Veiga countered that plastic bags pose a bigger problem than paper ones because they're used more widely, they're made with petroleum products, and they aren't recycled as much as paper.

She introduced the bill at the urging of high school students at Kent Denver School, who watched the debate from the gallery above the Senate floor.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said their intentions were good but said banning plastic bags wouldn't help the environment.

"Human nature says that people will go toward the most convenient product, and that is the paper bag," said Harvey, who said his family uses canvas bags when shopping.

Bag bans elsewhere
San Francisco has passed a plastic bag ban, as has China, Rwanda, Ireland and Bangladesh. Bag fees also have been considered in New York and Boston.

Plastic shopping bags will be banned from stores in Los Angeles beginning July 1, 2010. Shoppers can either bring their own bags or pay 25 cents for a paper or biodegradable bag.

A citizen's group in Seattle also is challenging that city's 20-cent bag fee and has collected enough signatures to send the matter to voters later this year.

In Maine, a bill that would require retailers to charge 10 cents for each plastic bag distributed to customers is being discussed by a legislative panel.

Colorado Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, argued that his state shouldn't follow the example of China, which also bans religious gatherings and having more than one child.

Three of the Kent students who lobbied lawmakers by phone and at the state Capitol remained upbeat after their defeat. They said they were glad the issue was debated for the public to see and that more people, including some of the bill's opponents, use reusable bags.

"I think people are changing, but they're not changing fast enough," said Julia Wedgle, who was joined by Katie Imhoff and Krista D'Alessandro.

All three are sophomores and said they would be back next year to try again.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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