Disposable Bag Fee
In November 2012, City Council adopted a Disposable Bag Fee 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. 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 since it went into effect in 2013.
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.
City Council has started discussing necessary changes to the bag fee to ensure compliance with requirements outlined in the state's Plastic Pollution Reduction Act. These changes would come next year.
Who does it apply to?
All grocery stores in Boulder, defined in the ordinance as those who are within city limits, operate year-round, and are full-line self-service markets that sell a line of staple foodstuffs, meats, produce, dairy products or other perishable items.
Note: This does not include restaurants, temporary vendors, vendors at the Boulder Farmers' Market, or businesses where food is an incidental part of the business (less than 2 percent of gross sales).
All grocery stores are required to display a sign in a visible location outside or inside of the business alerting customers to the city's Disposable Bag Fee. The City of Boulder will provide example signage on this website for stores to download and print. (The retained portion of the fee may be used by stores to produce signage and other educational materials.)
All grocery stores must record the number of disposable bags provided and the total amount of fees charged on the customer transaction receipt.
All paper checkout bags distributed at affected stores must be 100-percent recyclable and contain at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content.
The Disposable Bag Fee is 10 cents per disposable plastic or paper bag used at the checkout.
Four cents of the fee is to be retained by the retailer to cover costs of ordinance compliance and six cents is to be remitted to the city.
The fee is to be remitted quarterly with a return form that will be mailed to each affected business. A sample return form is available in the "Bag Fee Store Documents" list on the right side of this page.
How was the amount determined?
The City of Boulder commissioned a Disposable Bag Fee Nexus Study in 2012 to determine the appropriate level and uses of the bag fee.
The study determined that a per-bag rate of 20 cents would be appropriate.
In November 2012, City Council decided to set the Disposable Bag Fee at 10 cents per bag. It went into effect on July 1, 2013.
The bag fee was temporarily suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was reinstated on July 1, 2020, based on guidance from public health agencies' findings showing reusable bags pose a low risk for surface transmission of the virus.
Frequently Asked Questions
As of July 1, 2013 all grocery stores in Boulder are required to charge 10 cents for every plastic or paper bag used at 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 is not 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 provided by pharmacists.
Stores keep four cents of the fee to order to cover their costs complying with the ordinance, training employees, etc. The remaining six cents is 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;
Purchasing and installing equipment to minimize bag pollution, such as recycling containers;
Funding community cleanup events; and
Mitigating the effects of disposable bags on the city’s drainage system and environment.
Note: 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.
Specifically, initial revenue from the bag fee went to a robust marketing and education campaign about the bag fee and bag reduction. The fee also funded tens of thousands of reusable bags given away to the Boulder community.
The fee continues to be used to provide reusable bags to low income residents at local food banks and for education. In 2018, it funded an upgrade at the Boulder County recycling center for new equipment to help remove plastic bags from the recycling stream.
The fee is only be charged at “food stores”, defined in the ordinance as those that 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.
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.
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 City of Boulder/Eco-Cycle 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.
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 prevents 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.
The fee does 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 are distributed to the community, including low income populations. City of Boulder staff works with non-profits and government agencies such as EFFA, Boulder Housing Partners, Boulder County agencies, Workforce Boulder County and more to distribute bags.
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.
Boulder’s zero waste efforts are funded by a 1994 voter-approved ballot initiative that charges a tax on residential and commercial waste and generates approximately $1.8 million per year.
The trash tax is an occupation tax on trash haulers serving customers within the city limits and helps fund waste reduction efforts in Boulder. Most haulers pass the tax on to customers as part of their trash service bills. Boulder also has requirements that apply to all waste haulers.
Current Tax Rates
The current trash tax rates are at the voter-approved maximum level. City Council raised the tax to the voter-approved maximum in 2009 to pay for improved and centralized waste diversion facilities at 6400 Arapahoe Rd.
$3.50 per month for households; and
$0.85 per cubic yard of trash for businesses and multifamily units that use centralized dumpsters. This rate also applies to roll-off containers.
Trash Tax Uses
Over the years, the trash tax has funded a variety of waste reduction activities including:
Curbside compost collection;
The switch to single-stream recycling;
A portion of the new Hazardous Materials Management Facility (HMMF); and
The purchase of land and buildings at 6400 Arapahoe Avenue to house Eco-Cycle offices, the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM), and Resource Central's used building materials donation and sales yard.
Deconstruction and Demolition Requirements
- Create a sustainable deconstruction plan prior to applying for a demolition permit
- Divert 75% from the landfill, by weight, of the materials generated from demolition/deconstruction projects (including concrete and asphalt)
- Submit a refundable deconstruction deposit of $1/sq. ft. (of the structure being taken down), with a $1,500 minimum
- Pay a $219 non-refundable administrative fee
Demolition Permit Application
- Apply for a Demolition Permit
- The Historic Preservation Demolition Review Application is now separate from the Demolition Permit Application to streamline the application and reduce confusion around the two processes.
Deconstruction and Demolition Workflow
Before project begins
Complete the Sustainable Deconstruction Plan
- Identify your deconstruction waste recycling manager
- Estimate diversion rate for all applicable categories
- Create a plan with a deconstruction professional or on your own
Complete the Demolition Permit Application
- Email your completed Sustainable Deconstruction Plan and Demolition Permit Application to CDWastePermits@bouldercolorado.gov .
- Get signature from the City of Boulder Zero Waste Team
- Obtain all other required signatures (Xcel, CDPHE, etc.)
- Remit fees and refundable Deconstruction Deposit to the city
While project is ongoing
Track all diversion throughout project
Keep all receipts for landfill, recycling, reuse and donation
Enter all weights into the Construction & Demolition Waste Diversion Tracking Form
- Estimate weights if receipts are not available
After project completion
Request a Deconstruction Deposit Recovery (Inspection) on EnergovCSS
- If needed, email receipts and tracking form to CDWastePermits@bouldercolorado.gov
City team reviews diversion and calculates and processes your refund
City Finance Department issues your refund in the same manner it was paid
Questions and Resources
Send all emails and questions related to C&D waste recycling aspects of your project to CDWastePermits@bouldercolorado.gov.
The following links are additional resources to assist during your project:
Bear Protection Ordinance
The city's 2017 Bear Protection Ordinance 8161 aims to protect bears by eliminating access to food rewards found in trash and compost bins.
- Anywhere in the city: Bear-resistant containers are required if trash and compost are put out the night before pickup.
West of Broadway and south of Sumac Avenue: All compost and trash carts, containers, dumpsters or enclosures must be bear-resistant or stored in a building, house, garage, shed or other enclosure until emptied by a trash hauler.
View downloadable map of the area where bear-resistant containers are mandatory at all times.
To report unsecured trash, call the Police dispatch non-emergent number at 303-441-3333 and ask to speak to a Code Enforcement officer. Provide the officer the address of the trash violation.
Code enforcement officers will issue fines for noncompliance, including not latching containers, and violators will not receive warnings. Officers may issue tickets in-person or give citations to property owners via email or printed notification. The fines are:
- $100 for the first offense
- $250 for the second offense
- $500 for the third offense.
Please note yard waste such as leaves and branches are not considered bear attractants and can be put out for collection in leaf-litter bags or bundled with string. If compost containers only contain yard waste, they must still be latched. Also, bear-resistant carts and recycling containers can be put out for collection after 8pm the night before pick-up anywhere in the city.
Bear-resistant carts are similar to most trash and compost carts currently used in Boulder, but are reinforced with special latches. Carts that meet the bear-resistant criteria have been tested and rated by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
Examples of Bear-resistant Carts That Meet the Ordinance Requirements
- BearSaver Grizzly Poly Cart models (PC32-G, PC65-G, and PC95-G).
- Bearicuda Basic, Classic, and Stealth models
(PAK130, PAK132, PAK164, PAK195, STL135, STL264, and STL296)
Is Your Cart Broken?
The city requires bear-resistant containers to be in working condition, however they can break. If a cart is broken it must be fixed. For Western Disposal customers, call 303-444-2037 and request a replacement cart. Carts are generally replaced within 24 hours. If you are a One-Way Trash or Republic customer and you have purchased your cart, you are responsible for the repairs or replacement.
Would you like a bear-resistant container even though you do not live in the area where it is required?
Contact your trash hauler for the services they provide with bear- resistant container. You do not have to live in the area it is required to obtain a bear-resistant cart.
How can I make a bear-resistant waste enclosure?