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Disposable Bag Fee

Disposable Bag Fee

City of Boulder Disposable Bag Fee

In November 2012, City Council passed an ordinance requiring a 10-cent fee for disposable plastic and paper checkout bags at all grocery stores in Boulder. The bag fee does not apply to restaurants, bulk or produce bags, newspaper bags, or any other kind of food packaging bags.

Do you need to report a grocery store that didn't charge you the Disposable Bag Fee or another violation of the ordinance?

Please email Jamie Harkins with the details.

Need Reusable Bags?

Throughout the month of June and July of 2013, almost 40,000 Brought It resuable bags were distributed to the Boulder community through giveaways at grocery stores and recreation centers and with the assistance of partner organizations. Special thanks to EFFA, Boulder Housing Partners, Workforce Boulder County, Boulder County AIDS Project, City of Boulder Human Services, Boulder County Public Health, Boulder County Community Services and Eco-Cycle!

Why Is Bag Use a Concern?

Boulder currently uses approximately 33 million checkout bags a year, or about 342 bags/person/year. Plastic bags are produced from non-renewable resources, are very difficult to recycle (they cannot go in Boulder’s curbside bins), and contaminate our recycling facility equipment. Plastic bags do not biodegrade, so they remain as litter in the environment. Paper bags are recyclable, but take a very large amount of water and energy to produce. The Disposable Bag Fee helps to mitigate these problems by charging a fee to consumers that choose to use disposable bags.

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How does the bag fee work?

As of July 1, 2013 all grocery stores in Boulder are required to charge 10 cents for every plastic or paper bag used at the checkout. The stores retain four cents of the fee and the remaining six cents is sent to the City of Boulder to address the impacts of disposable bags in our community.  The fee will not be charged on bags used inside stores such as produce bags, bulk food bags, or bags used to wrap meat or fish. It also does not apply to newspaper bags or bags provide by pharmacists.

What will the fee money be used for?

Stores will keep four cents of the fee to order to cover their costs complying with the ordinance, training employees, etc. The remaining six cents will be remitted to the City of Boulder for uses stated in the ordinance, including:

  • Administrative costs associated with developing and implementing the fee;
  • Providing reusable bags to the community;
  • Educating residents, businesses and visitors about the impacts of disposable bags;
  • Funding programs and infrastructure that allow the community to reduce waste associated with disposable bags;
  • Purchase and install equipment to minimize bag pollution, such as recycling containers;
  • Fund community cleanup events; and
  • Mitigate the effects of disposable bags on the city’s drainage system and environment.

*The  Disposable Bag Fee is a fee, not a tax, and therefore proceeds collected in accordance with this ordinance can only be used for the purposes listed above, and cannot be used for general government expenses.

What stores have to collect the bag fee?

The fee will only be charged at “food stores,” defined in the ordinance as those who are within the city limits, operate year-round, and sell a line of staple foodstuffs, meats, produce, dairy products or other perishable items. This does not include temporary vendors, vendors at farmers markets, or businesses at which food is not a significant source of revenue.

Has this type of ordinance been implemented elsewhere?

Yes! Regulation most similar to ours (a fee on both paper and plastic bags) was implemented in Washington D.C. in 2009 and has been very successful. Ireland also has a fee on all types of bags. Aspen, Telluride, Breckenridge and Basalt are examples of cities here in Colorado that also have ordinances in place to reduce the use of disposable bags. A listing of other communities with similar ordinances is available at this website .

Why don't we just promote recycling plastic bags?

Plastic bags are very difficult to recycle due to the limited aftermarkets for the material. They must be clean, dry, and placed in a collection container specifically for bags. These containers are available at most grocery stores and at the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM).  They cannot be recycled in Boulder’s single stream curbside program, and cause a lot of problems when residents put their recyclables in them. They clog the machinery that sort our recyclables, resulting in equipment shut-downs so that they can be cut out by hand.

Is banning bags a possibility?

A ban on just plastic bags or all disposable bags were options considered by City Council. The Disposable Bag Fee is a first step towards the goal of eventually moving away from disposable bag use in Boulder. The effectiveness of the fee will be monitored and other options may be evaluated in the future. Current state law appears to prevent the adoption of bans on plastic materials by municipalities. The applicable law reads:

       C.R.S. § 25-17-104 Local Government Preemption

No unit of local government shall require or prohibit the use or sale of specific types of plastic materials or products or restrict or mandate containers, packaging, or labeling for any consumer products.

How will the fee impact the low-income population of Boulder?

The fee will not apply to anyone who participates in a federal or state food assistance program. In addition, a portion of the revenue collected from the fee will be used to purchase reusable bags that will be distributed in advance of July 1 st to the community, including low-income populations. City of Boulder staff is working with non-profits and government agencies such as EFFA, Boulder Housing Partners, Boulder County agencies, Workforce Boulder County and more to distribute bags.

How can I avoid paying 10 cents?

You can avoid paying the 10 cent bag fee by using your own bag that you bring with you to the store. Some stores also offer reusable bag credits, so you could save even more than 10 cents per bag. You can also choose not to bag your purchase.


*For more answers to frequently asked questions, visit the Disposable Bag Fee FAQ page.

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