Frequently Asked Questions

For Shoppers: 

General Questions

Why is disposable bag use a concern in Denver?

More than 100 million disposable bags are used annually in Denver, and despite voluntary efforts, less than 5% are recycled. Plastic bags are produced from non-renewable resources, are very difficult to recycle (they cannot go in the city’s purple recycle carts), and cause damage to recycling facility equipment. Plastic bags litter our community, block storm drains, and endanger wildlife. Paper bags can be recycled, but they require a very large amount of water and energy to produce.

What is the reason for the bag fee?

The Denver City Council adopted the Fee on Disposable Bags to reduce environmental impacts and cost to the city caused by disposable bags. A mandatory fee on disposable bags has been shown to significantly reduce the number of disposable bags used in other communities.

When does the Fee on Disposable Bags take effect? 

The Fee on Disposable Bags will take effect on July 1, 2021.

How much is the fee?

The fee is 10 cents per disposable bag (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) provided at the checkout. 

What stores are required to collect the bag fee?

The fee must be charged by all retail stores within Denver that sell personal consumer goods, household items, or groceries. Examples of the types of stores that are required to charge the fee include but are not limited to: convenience stores, department stores, retail chain stores, hardware stores, liquor stores, and grocery stores. 

Which stores are not required to collect the bag fee?

Restaurants, beauty salons, auto mechanics, and other businesses where retail sales are not the primary business activity are not required to charge the bag fee. Temporary vendors or events such as farmer’s markets are also exempt, as are marijuana dispensaries which use paper bags of a size smaller than those covered by this ordinance.

Are signs about the bag fee required to be on display in stores?

Yes. Retail stores required to collect the bag fee must display a sign viewable to customers, alerting them to the bag fee. 

Where can I find more information on the bag fee?

You can find more information at DenverGov.org/BringYourOwnBag or by emailing your questions to sustainability@denvergov.org.  

Who Pays the Bag Fee?

Must stores charge all shoppers the bag fee?

All customers must be charged except those who provide proof of participation in a federal or state Food Assistance Program. Examples of Food Assistance Programs include EBT, SNAP, or TANF. 

How can I avoid the bag fee?

You can avoid paying the 10-cent bag fee by bringing your own bags, including reusing disposable bags that you already have, or refusing a bag when you make a small purchase that is easy to carry without a bag. The city will partner with grocers and local non-profits in a public awareness campaign and reusable bag giveaways in advance of July 1st.

Will I be charged if I bring my own plastic or paper bag?

No. The bag fee will not apply to bags you bring to a store for reuse, including disposable bags you already have. 

Are some types of bags exempt from the fee?

Yes. The Fee on Disposable Bags does not apply to any bag brought into a store by a customer, nor does it apply to packages containing multiple bags for food storage, garbage, pet waste, or yard waste. Additionally, the Fee on Disposable Bags does not apply to bags used by a customer inside the store to contain or wrap the following:

  • Loose bulk items such as produce, nuts, grains, candy, or small hardware
  • Frozen or freshly prepared food such as baked goods, meat, or fish
  • Flowers, potted plants, or other items where dampness might be a problem
  • Newspaper, laundry, or dry cleaning
  • Prescription drugs from the pharmacy
  • Loose small items such as jewelry, beads, spices, and marijuana (bag must be no larger than 8”x 12”)

Does the fee apply to bags used for delivery orders or self-checkout?

Yes. The bag fee must be applied to each disposable bag (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) used to deliver goods or provided at self-checkout.

Reusable Bags

Where can I get reusable bags?

The city will partner with local nonprofits in a public awareness campaign and reusable bag giveaways in advance of July 1st. Check back for a list of bag giveaway sites and events. Additionally, there are a variety of reusable bags on the market at different price points. 

What type of reusable bag is best?

The best bag is a reusable bag that you use for years and years and that you can wash. Choose a bag that is durable to avoid having to buy a replacement in the future. Consider bags made from recycled content material.

Should I regularly clean my reusable bags?

Yes. You should consider washing reusable bags between uses with mild soap and warm water.

How can I make remembering my bags a habit?

  • Write “Bring Bags” at the top of your grocery list and put your bags with your list.
  • Post a reminder note by your door.
  • Hang your bags by your door or put them back in your car or bike basket as soon as you empty and clean them.
  • Store or clip an extra bag in your purse or backpack.
  • Keep a spare bag at work.
  • Leave a few bags in your car.
  • Put your coupons in your bag.
  • If you regularly shop on a set day of the week, put a reminder in your phone or on your calendar to bring your bags.

Can you get COVID-19 from shopping bags? 

The CDC has found that transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus from bags and other packaging surfaces to be very low. By the time the bag fee goes into effect on July 1, 2021, many people over the age of 16 in Denver will have been fully vaccinated, further reducing the risk of transmission. The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment has not instituted any health restrictions on the use or handling of reusable bags by consumers or retail employees, and no future restrictions to that effect are expected.  Additional information can be found in this study by the National Institutes of Health.

As an added precaution, consumers can consider washing reusable bags between uses with mild soap and warm water, but the better control for the transmission of the virus and other harmful germs from objects touched by others is frequent handwashing with soap and hot water, particularly before touching one’s face or eating.

Does Denver Recycles accept reusable bags in the purple cart?

No. Denver Recycles does not accept reusable bags in the purple carts. If you have reusable bags that are in good working condition, consider donating them to a thrift store or local food pantry, or give them to a friend. You can recycle reusable bags that are torn beyond repair through Chico Bag’s recycling program. You can find more info from Chico Bags.

Disposable Bags

Aren’t disposable bags better for the environment than reusable bags?

No. While it’s true that more resources are used to make a reusable bag than to make a disposable bag, once you use your reusable bag a certain number of times (depending on the material type) its benefits outweigh the impacts from production. The best bag is a reusable bag that you use for years and years.

I use plastic bags to bag my recyclables. What should I do now?

Place your recyclables loose in your purple cart.  Plastic bags are not allowed in Denver’s residential recycling program and never have been.  Loose plastic bags clog machinery and cause equipment shut-downs at the recycling center. Bags with recyclables in them are not opened at the sorting facility due to safety concerns.  

What will pet owners use to clean up after their pets?

Pet owners will still have multiple options to clean up pet waste.  They can use plastic bags from newspapers, produce, or bread; paper bags; newspaper; or dog poop bags bought at the store. 

How the Bag Fee is Used

How will the 10-cent bag fee be monitored?

A retail store must record on a customer’s receipt the number of disposable bags (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) provided to a customer and the total amount of fees charged for each type of bag.  The bag fee cannot be included as revenue for the purposes of calculating sales tax to the customer. Anyone can report retail stores that may not be compliant with the Fee on Disposable Bags by calling 311 (720-913-1311).

What happens to the bag fee collected by stores? 

Stores will keep 4 cents of each bag fee and may only use the fee to cover the cost of complying with the Fee on Disposable Bags, such as training employees, education customers, and providing free reusable carryout bags. The remaining 6 cents is kept by the city for uses such as administering the Fee on Disposable Bags program, public information programs on reducing the use of disposable bags and other single use products, and providing free reusable bags to the community.  Monies may also be spent to address the impact of single-use products on the city’s environment and drainage system through community cleanups, infrastructure, and equipment. 

The Fee on Disposable Bags is not a tax and none of the proceeds can be used for other non-related government expenses.

This is a tax which violates TABOR. Isn’t this fee illegal?

The Fee on Disposable Bags is not a tax and none of the proceeds can be used for other non-related government expenses.  Additionally, the fee cannot be included as revenue for the purposes of calculating sales tax to a customer.


For Retailers:

General Questions

Why is disposable bag use a concern in Denver?

More than 100 million disposable bags are used annually in Denver, and despite voluntary efforts, less than 5% are recycled. Plastic bags are produced from non-renewable resources, are very difficult to recycle (they cannot go in the city’s purple recycle carts), and cause damage to recycling facility equipment. Plastic bags litter our community, block storm drains, and endanger wildlife. Paper bags can be recycled, but they require a very large amount of water and energy to produce.

What is the reason for the Fee on Disposable Bags?

The Denver City Council adopted the Fee on Disposable Bags to reduce environmental impacts and cost to the city caused by disposable bags. A mandatory fee on disposable bags has been shown to significantly reduce the number of disposable bags used.

When does the Fee on Disposable Bags take effect? 

The Fee on Disposable Bags will take effect on July 1, 2021.

How much is the fee?

The fee is 10 cents per disposable bag (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) provided at the checkout. 

What stores are required to collect the bag fee?

The fee must be charged by all retail stores within Denver that sell personal consumer goods, household items, or groceries. Examples of the types of stores that are required to charge the fee include but are not limited to: convenience stores, department stores, retail chain stores, hardware stores, liquor stores, and grocery stores. 

Which stores are not required to collect the bag fee?

Restaurants, beauty salons, auto mechanics, and other businesses where retail sales are not the primary business activity are not required to charge the bag fee. Temporary vendors or events such as farmer’s markets are also exempt, as are marijuana dispensaries which use paper bags of a size smaller than those covered by this ordinance.

Are signs about the bag fee required to be on display in stores?

Yes. Retail stores required to collect the bag fee must display a sign viewable to customers, alerting them to the bag fee.  You can find downloadable and printable signs at DenverGov.org/BringYourOwnBag.

Where can I find more information on the bag fee?

You can find more information on this site or by emailing your questions to sustainability@denvergov.org

When to Charge the Bag Fee

Must stores charge all shoppers the bag fee?

All customers must be charged except those who provide proof of participation in a federal or state Food Assistance Program. Examples of Food Assistance Programs include EBT, SNAP, or TANF. 

How can shoppers avoid the bag fee?

Shoppers can avoid paying the 10-cent bag fee by bringing their own bags, including reusing disposable bags that they already have, or refusing a bag when they make a small purchase that is easy to carry without a bag. The city will partner with grocers and local non-profits in a public awareness campaign and reusable bag giveaways in advance of July 1st.

Are some types of bags exempt from the fee?

Yes. The Fee on Disposable Bags does not apply to any bag brought into a store by a customer, nor does it apply to packages containing multiple bags for food storage, garbage, pet waste, or yard waste. Additionally, the Fee on Disposable Bags does not apply to bags used by a customer inside the store to contain or wrap the following:

  • Loose bulk items such as produce, nuts, grains, candy, or small hardware
  • Frozen or freshly prepared food such as baked goods, meat, or fish
  • Flowers, potted plants, or other items where dampness might be a problem
  • Newspaper, laundry, or dry cleaning
  • Prescription drugs from the pharmacy
  • Loose small items such as jewelry, beads, spices, and marijuana (bag in this case must be no larger than 8”x 12”)

Does the fee apply to bags used for delivery orders or self-checkout?

Yes. The bag fee must be applied to each disposable bag (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) used to deliver goods or provided at self-checkout.  It is recommended that stores place notification of the bag fee at each self-checkout location (see printable PDFs above).

Can a store pay the fee for a customer?

No. The Fee on Disposable Bags prohibits a store from paying or otherwise refunding the fee to the customers.  The intent of the fee is to discourage customers from taking disposable bags.  If the store pays the fee, then customers have less of a reason to avoid taking a disposable bag.  

Remitting and Using Bag Fees

How will the 10-cent fee be monitored?

A retail store must record on a customer’s receipt the number of disposable bags (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) provided to a customer and the total amount of fees charged for each type of bag.  The bag fee cannot be included as revenue for the purposes of calculating sales tax to the customer.

The city reserves the right to request that a retail store make its records available for compliance audits and can assess penalties for failure to comply with the ordinance.

Anyone can report stores that may not be compliant with the Fee on Disposable Bags by calling 311 (720-913-1311).

How and when do store owners report and remit the fees they collect?

Stores must pay the city 6 cents of each bag fee collected. Although this is not a tax, retailers are encouraged to submit the fees online using the same system that they report their sales taxes at www.denvergov.org/ebiztax/. The Bag Fee account type will be added to your existing profile which also includes Sales Tax and Occupational Privilege Tax. Bag Fees are due quarterly. The first form and payment are due October 20, 2021 for the period of July 1, 2021- September 30, 2021. Forms will be available starting in late September 2021.

What types of information will stores be required to report?

Stores will be required to report the number of disposable bags distributed, itemized by bag material type and total fees due.

What happens to the portion of the bag fee kept by stores?

Stores keep 4 cents of each bag fee, and may only use the fee to cover the cost of:

  • Providing educational information about the bag fee to customers
  • Developing and displaying informational signage to inform customers of the fee, encourage use of reusable carryout bags, or promote recycling of disposable bags
  • Training staff on the implementation and administration of the fee
  • Improving or altering infrastructure to allow for the implementation, collection, and administration of the fee
  • Providing FREE reusable carryout bags to customers
  • Improving infrastructure to increase disposable plastic bag recycling

Can a store use their portion of the bag fee to provide free reusable carryout bags?

Yes. A store may use their portion of the fee to provide free reusable carryout bags, which are defined by Denver’s Revised Municipal Code as bags that:

  • Are specifically intended for multiple reuse
  • Made of cloth, fiber, or other fabric or material that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly, and must be machine-washable
  • Have handles
  • Cannot be made from a plastic film where thickness is measured in mils
  • Have a permanent tag identifying the name of the manufacturer, the material used to manufacture it, and location (country) where it was manufactured
  • Can carry twenty-two pounds or more and be used one hundred twenty-five (125) or more times

What happens to the portion of the bag fee proceeds kept by the city?

The city may spend its portion of the bag fees on administering the bag fee program and public information programs focused on reducing the use of disposable bags and other single-use products, including providing free reusable bags to the community.  Monies may also be spent to address the impact of single-use products on the city’s environment and drainage system through community cleanups, infrastructure, and equipment. 

The Fee on Disposable Bags is not a tax and none of the proceeds can be used for other non-related government expenses.

 

Reusable Bags

Can a store use their portion of the bag fee to provide free reusable carryout bags?

Yes. A store may use their portion of the fee to provide free reusable carryout bags, which are defined by Denver’s Revised Municipal Code as bags that:

  • Are specifically intended for multiple reuse
  • Made of cloth, fiber, or other fabric or material that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly, and must be machine-washable
  • Have handles
  • Cannot be made from a plastic film where thickness is measured in mils
  • Have a permanent tag identifying the name of the manufacturer, the material used to manufacture it, and location (country) where it was manufactured
  • Can carry twenty-two pounds or more and be used one hundred twenty-five (125) or more times

Where can Denver residents get reusable bags?

The city will partner with grocers and local non-profits to provide some free reusable carryout bags to the public in advance of July 1st. Check back for a list of bag giveaway sites and events.  Additionally, there are a variety of reusable bags on the market. They come in all shapes and sizes and are available at a variety of price points. 

Can you get COVID-19 from shopping bags? 

The CDC has found that transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus from bags and other packaging surfaces to be very low. By the time the bag fee goes into effect on July 1, 2021, many people over the age of 16 in Denver will have been fully vaccinated, further reducing the risk of transmission. The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment has not instituted any health restrictions on the use or handling of reusable bags by consumers or retail employees, and no future restrictions to that effect are expected.  Additional information can be found in this study by the National Institutes of Health.

As an added precaution, consumers can consider washing reusable bags between uses with mild soap and warm water, but the better control for the transmission of the virus and other harmful germs from objects touched by others is frequent handwashing with soap and hot water, particularly before touching one’s face or eating.

 

Retailer Training

This retailer training will help you prepare to comply with the new Fee on Disposable Bags ordinance that takes effect on July 1, 2021. 

This training includes:

  • Bag fee basics
  • Signage requirements and free resources from the City
  • Steps for reporting and remitting the bag fees you collect
  • How much of the bag fee you may keep and how you can spend it

Recordings: