Jun 28, 2021 - News

Denver's single-use bag fee kicks off July 1

A photo of a person's legs walking along a crosswalk with a plastic shopping bag in their right hand

A pedestrian carries a plastic shopping bag. Photo: Natan Dvir/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Starting July 1, Denver shoppers will need to bring their own bags to the store or pay a fee for each one used at the counter.

Driving the news: A 2019 ordinance requiring Denver businesses to charge 10 cents for single-use bags — paper and plastic— is taking effect Thursday after being twice delayed due to the pandemic.

  • The Denver City Council is also expected to approve minor amendments to the law tonight, including moving the Bring Your Own Bag program under the city's climate action agency.

Why it matters: Plastic has seeped into even the most remote areas of our environment because it never completely breaks down. In Denver alone, more than 100 million disposable bags are used annually — but less than 5% are recycled, according to city documents.

  • A mandatory fee can significantly reduce the number of disposable bags used, research in other cities found.

How it works: Starting Thursday, retailers will pocket 4 cents from the 10-cent fee for each bag sold, and the city scores the rest.

  • Revenue raised by the city will be used for education and marketing around the program, free reusable bag giveaways, waste reduction efforts, and administrative and enforcement costs.

Who's exempt: People in state and federal food assistance programs won't be charged.

  • The bag fee also doesn't apply for packaging bulk items, produce, meat or fish, nor will it be used at businesses where retail sales aren't the primary purpose.

The intrigue: What would have at one time been criticized as a governmental overreach is now seen as an overdue move. Denver's measure received little resistance, with both convenience stores and supermarket chains on board, as well as city leaders, including Mayor Michael Hancock.

  • Flashback: In 2013, a council member proposed charging a 5-cent fee per bag, but the measure fell short after Hancock expressed concerns about the negative impact on low-income residents.

The big picture: Single-use plastic is being targeted across Colorado, with Democratic policymakers advancing legislation at the state and local levels.

  • Gov. Jared Polis is soon expected to sign into law a new bill that will charge a fee for plastic and paper bags, as well as ban the use of styrofoam in restaurants in 2024.
  • If enacted, Colorado will join a growing list of states to pass similar measures.

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