In 2012, City Council adopted a Disposable Bag Fee Ordinance that requires all grocery stores in Boulder to charge a 10-cent fee for every single-use bag used at checkout. City Council has since updated and expanded the ordinance to comply with Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (PPRA).
Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, all large stores must begin collecting a 10-cent fee for each single-use bag used at checkout.
- All food stores, regardless of size, must continue collecting the bag fee in 2023.
Businesses that meet the criteria of a “small store" are exempt from charging the fee until 2024.
Restaurants and other food establishments are not considered stores. They are exempt from the bag fee.
All stores in Boulder will be required to charge the fee in 2024.
- Display a clearly visible sign outside or inside their building alerting customers to the city's Disposable Bag Fee. Stores may use their kept portion of the fee to produce signage and other educational materials. Download and print our free signs.
- Record the number of disposable bags provided and total fees charged on customer receipts.
- The fee must be remitted quarterly using the Boulder Online Tax System. Returns will be available approximately 10 business days before the end of the quarter.
- All paper checkout bags must be 100% recyclable and contain at least 40% post-consumer recycled content.
The fee does not apply to anyone who participates in a federal or state food assistance program.
Prepare Your Business for the 10-Cent Bag Fee
Determine when your business must collect the fee.
- Jan. 1, 2023: all large stores in Boulder must begin collecting the fee. Businesses that meet the criteria of a “small store" are exempt from charging the fee until the following year.
- Jan. 1, 2024: all stores in Boulder must collect the fee.
Set up a fee collection system.
Adjust your registers to track and charge for each disposable bag (plastic and paper) provided at checkout.
- Customer receipts must include the number of disposable bags provided and total fees charged.
- Be sure that your system records the number of disposable bags provided to customers.
Alert your customers to the fee.
Post signs reminding customers to bring their own bags. Good locations for signage include:
- The parking lot
- Store doors
- Shelves throughout the store
- At checkout and self-checkout lanes
- On grocery cart advertising space
Educate your employees.
Train employees on bag fee requirements.
Designate a bag fee expert on your team to handle questions and train new cashiers and baggers as needed.
Make reusable bags accessible near checkout.
- Place reusable bags for purchase near checkout lanes.
- Ensure reusable bags are well stocked at each register.
Frequently Asked Questions
Since 2013, all grocery stores within Boulder city limits have been required to collect the bag fee.
All large stores must begin collecting a 10-cent fee for each single-use bag used at checkout. Businesses that meet the criteria of a “small store" are exempt from charging the fee until 2024.
Required stores include:
- Convenience and liquor stores, dry cleaners, pharmacies, drug stores, clothing stores or any other type of retail establishment where disposable bags are provided to customers.
- Farmers’ markets, roadside stands, festivals and other temporary vendors are also included in the state’s requirements. However, many are considered "small stores" and are exempt from the fee until 2024.
The bag fee will be charged at every Boulder store, starting on Jan. 1, 2024.
Retail food establishments, like restaurants, are not included in the Disposable Bag Fee.
To be considered small, stores must meet all three of the following criteria:
- Operates solely in Colorado.
- Has three or fewer locations in the state.
- Is not part of a franchise, corporation or partnership that has physical locations outside of Colorado.
Small stores will be required to collect the bag fee starting on Jan. 1, 2024.
Yes, bags used by consumers inside stores to:
Package bulk items, such as produce, nuts, grains, candy, small hardware and fish.
Contain or wrap frozen foods, meat or fish.
Contain or wrap flowers, potted plants, bulk pet feed or other items where dampness may be a problem.
Contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods.
Protect a purchased item from damaging or contaminating other items when placed in a carryout bag.
Customers can avoid paying the bag fee by bringing their own bags to stores or by choosing not to bag their purchases.
Some stores also offer reusable bag credits, so customers can save even more than 10 cents per bag.
Four cents of the fee are kept by the store to cover costs of complying with the ordinance. The remaining six cents are used by the city to address impacts of disposable bags in our community, including:
Administrative costs associated with implementing and enforcing the fee.
Providing reusable bags to community members.
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.
Purchasing and installing equipment to minimize bag pollution, such as recycling containers.
Funding community cleanup events.
Mitigating the effects of disposable bags on the city’s drainage system and environment.
Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act also allows cities to use bag fee revenues for general waste reduction education and programs.
At the time of adoption, Boulder used approximately 33 million checkout bags a year, or about 342 bags per person each year. Boulder saw a 70 percent decrease in plastic bag use immediately following the implementation of the bag fee, however, that trend leveled off quickly. As of early 2018, the fee had collected approximately $1,000,000.
Plastic bags are very difficult to recycle due to the limited markets for the material. They must be clean, dry and placed in collection containers at special locations. These containers are available at most grocery stores and at the Eco-Cycle/City of Boulder Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM).
Plastic bags cannot be recycled in Boulder’s curbside bins. When mixed in with other recyclables, they clog sorting machinery and cause equipment shutdowns.
Paper bags are recyclable but take large amounts of water and energy to produce.
It’s happening! For many years, Boulder was unable to ban plastic bags due to a preemption in state law. Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (PPRA) removed that regulation and created a statewide plastic bag ban.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, plastic carryout bags will be phased out of all stores in Colorado who do not meet the “small store” criteria in the PPRA.
Yes, equity continues to be a priority.
A portion of the revenue collected from the fee is used to purchase reusable bags that are distributed to the community. City staff work with nonprofits and government agencies, such as Boulder Housing Partners and Workforce Boulder County, to distribute bags.
Additionally, the fee does not apply to anyone who participates in a federal or state food assistance program.