Nov 9, 2021 - News

Plastic and paper bag fee cost consumers $575K in its first 3 months

Illustration of a plastic bag with "NO THANK YOU" printed multiple times on it alongside a health plus.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Denver’s 10-cent fee on paper and plastic bags appears to be working when it comes to curbing our environmentally harmful habits.

By the numbers: Between the start of July and the end of September, bag fees generated more than $575,000 in revenue for grocers and the city.

  • The city collected $345,412, Grace Rink, Denver’s chief climate officer, tells Axios. Retailers raked in roughly $230,000.
  • Retailers keep 4 cents from every bag sale, and the city pockets the other 6.

Why it matters: City officials estimated residents use 80 million bags a year, and the fee would conservatively lead to "a 50% reduction" and $4 million in revenue.

  • At its current pace, the fee would generate about $1.4 million over a full year — representing a roughly 83% reduction of bag consumption citywide.
  • Shoppers used approximately 5.7 million bags in three months — essentially a victory for environmentalists.

Reality check: Anecdotally, the fees weren't strictly implemented from the start as cashiers and customers adjusted to the new process.

State of play: Grocers in Denver say they’ve noticed an uptick in customers armed with bags of their own — and a lot less grumbling than anticipated.

  • The few customers who do complain tend to focus on how the city is spending the dollars and why it needs more money, an employee at the Trader Joe's on Logan Street tells Axios.
  • Moreover, many patrons have been bringing their own bags for years, several store employees say.

What they’re saying: "Our clientele was pretty tuned into [reusable bags], but I do find more people not taking a bag when they can just carry it rather than getting a bag," says Mark Johnson, director of operations at Marczyk Fine Foods' flagship store.

  • May Vhang, manager of Park Hill Supermarket, says her store has seen less resistance from customers who previously opposed her shop’s offer of boxes instead of bags. Now patrons bring their own reusable bags.

Where the revenue goes: Denver officials plan to use the funds for running the program, marketing materials and providing free reusable bags.

  • They are also weighing whether to spend the money to address the impact of single-use products on the city's environment and drainage system through community cleanups, infrastructure and equipment.

"We do not have more specifics at this time. We can’t develop an actual budget for that revenue until we know how much there will be, and it’s just too early to forecast how much will be available in 2022," Rink says.

What to watch: Whether the revenue will jump in 2022 remains to be seen, particularly as the holiday shopping season strikes.


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