BOULDER, Colo. — Many shoppers across Colorado have had to start paying bag fees in the new year. While certain cities enacted their own bag fees years ago, the new law is part of a bigger plan to eventually ban plastic bags altogether in our state.
EcoCycle, based out of Boulder, was one of the proponents of the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act that was passed by the Colorado General Assembly in 2021.
"These bags, most of them end up in our landfill. But a lot of them also just get blown out, end up in our environment, and they become a huge pollutant," said Randy Moorman, director of policy and community campaign with EcoCycle. "They break down into small plastics that animals can ingest and become lethal to animals and livestock, but they also get into our water, our soil and eventually into our food."
Plastic bags have become one of the top pollutants their volunteers have found during clean-ups of Colorado waterways.
The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act is meant to cut down the number of single-use plastic bags. The law requires a fee of at least 10 cents per plastic or paper bag, although any community that already had a higher fee in place can continue enforcing that fee.
"Four cents of it stays with the business to help them implement the program at the business level. Then six cents goes to the local municipality or local government. That local government can use it to give out reusable bags or use it to address plastic pollution in their community," explained Moorman.
The money to local governments will start coming in on April 1, 2024, when the retailers are required to give up that 60% of fees collected. However, stores can get those funds before the April date, if their local government has a system in place to receive the money.
Boulder County has been charging a bag fee for almost a decade. Through their 60% of the collected fees, officials have collected around $260,000 annually, which they've invested into sustainability initiatives.
"What we have seen is a dramatic decrease in the use of the bags. Then as a result, we don't find as many in our streams and in our parks. There's a clear correlation there," said Moorman.
Advocates say the goal isn't to collect fees, it's to stop the use of single plastics ending up in the environment. They offer a solution to those wanting to avoid the fee before the bags are banned all together.
"The easiest way to avoid the 10 cents is to bring your own bag or bring a reusable bag that you can use over and over and over again," said Moorman.
Anyone who receives federal or state food assistance through programs like SNAP or WIC do not have to pay the bag fee.
The full ban on plastic bags and polystyrene cups and containers begins January 1, 2024. Restaurants and small local businesses with three or fewer locations will be exempt.
Then, on July 1, 2024, municipalities and counties are allowed to put in place stricter regulations on single-use or plastic product use.