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1.5 billion fewer plastic bags used in Colorado thanks to fee, Boulder recycling center estimates

Plastic bags at recycling center
Posted at 9:59 PM, Jan 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-12 09:05:53-05

DENVER — After a year of the statewide fee on single-use plastic bags, the Eco-Cycle recycling center in Boulder estimates between 1.5 billion and 1.8 billion fewer plastic bags were used in Colorado in 2023.

The center anticipates a greater reduction in use in 2024 as businesses phase out the use of single-use plastic bags in most cases.

Eco-Cycle calculated its estimate by taking the number of plastic bags each American uses per year on average — 365, according to National Geographic— and factoring Colorado’s population, along with reduction estimates from several local communities.

1.5 billion fewer plastic bags used in CO thanks to fee, recycling center says

Randy Moorman, Eco-Cycle’s director of policy and community campaigns, said the reduction is crucial because single-use plastic bags are the number one contaminant found in Colorado’s rivers and streams. They also are not able to be fully recycled and instead have to be “down-cycled” into other products.



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“We collect [single-use plastic bags] here as long as they’re clean and dry, and they go to be made into another product like decking or outdoor furniture. We say that’s down-cycled because they’re not going back to a bag,” Moorman explained. “That means that we still have to go out and get the natural resources, like natural gas, to make more bags. So this is not closing that loop. We’re not collecting bags that will be made into more bags. But these are down-cycled into other products that eventually will end up in the landfill.”

Businesses in Colorado have until June to use whatever single-use plastic bags they already have while still collecting the 10-cent fee. The collected fees are divided between the business and the local government to fund green initiatives. Denver, for example, has collected $5 million for its special revenue fund since its fee was implemented in 2021.

Becky Goyton, an education coordinator with Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency, said the money has funded many environmental initiatives, including the purchase of reusable bags for residents and sustainable products for small businesses. Unlike most budgetary matters, Goyton celebrates the decline in revenue to the fund.

Keep It Clean COS crew.jpeg

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“Having some revenue to do some great projects and reinvest in the community is wonderful, but it’s not our goal,” Goyton said. “Our goal is to see that fee go down and that revenue go down because that means more people are bringing their own bag and less disposable bags are being put out into the community.”

In addition to single-use plastic bags, Colorado businesses are also required to phase out Styrofoam containers this year. Like with plastic bags, businesses are permitted to use already-purchased Styrofoam products but cannot obtain any more.

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