Fee on Disposable Bags

Overview

Denver seeks to reduce the number of disposable carryout bags used, littered, and landfilled. The Fee on Disposable Bags requires retail stores in Denver to charge $0.10 for each disposable bag (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material) provided to customers at checkout starting on July 1, 2021.

The Fee on Disposable Bags addresses the impacts and costs of disposable bags in the community and encourages the use of reusable bags. Together we can reduce waste, prevent litter, and protect our waterways.

What You Need to Know:

  • Retail stores located in Denver will be required to charge $0.10 per carryout bag.
  • Shoppers can avoid the bag fee by bringing their own bags.
  • The bag fee will not apply to some bags such as those used to package bulk items, produce, meat, or fish.
  • Participants in state and federal Food Assistance Programs will not be charged for carryout bags.
  • Charges for bags must be displayed separately on customer receipts.
  • Portions of the bag fee will be kept by the store to cover the cost of implementing the program and by the city to address the impacts of disposable bags and single-use products in our community. 
  • The City and its partners will give away reusable bags while supplies last starting in May 2021.
  • For more details about the Fee on Disposable Bags, please review our Frequently Asked Questions for shoppers and retailers.  
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "The risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging, or bags is thought to be very low." For more information, visit the Reusable Bag Safety section. 

     

Retailer Information

Download and print these resources for your store:

  1. Be Prepared
  2.  Educate Your Customers
  3. Educate Your Employees

Frequently Asked Questions:

General Questions

Why is disposable bag use a concern in Denver?

Approximately two billion disposable bags are used annually in Colorado, 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 $0.10 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 www.DenverGov.org/BagFees.

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 $0.10 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 7”x 9”)

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 $0.10 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 $.06 of each bag fee collected on or before the 20th of each month.  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 city will provide directions and resources, including retailer trainings, for reporting and remitting fees by late Spring 2021. 

What types of information will stores be required to report each month?

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 $0.04 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. For a list of bag giveaway sites and events, visit www.DenverGov.org/BagFees.  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.

 

Shopper Information

Reusable Bags

The best bag is a reusable bag that you already have and use for years and years.  If you need a bag, then choose one that is durable to avoid having to buy a replacement, and make sure that you can wash it regularly.  Consider bags made from reused or recycled content material.

Tips for Remembering Reusable Bags:

  • 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.
  • Put your coupons in your bag.
  • Put a reminder in your phone to bring your bags if you regularly shop on a set day of the week. 

Reusable Bag Safety

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.

Helpful Resources:

Cleaning and Disinfecting