State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies
Colorado’s statewide plastic bag ban took effect this year, but city and municipal governments are still divided on how to enforce it.
The language of the law passed in 2021 required large businesses that operate in Colorado to stop providing single-use plastic carryout bags by Jan. 1, 2024. Inventory purchased before 2024 can still be provided to customers through June 1. After that, businesses may continue providing recycled paper bags at a 10 cent fee.
Cities and counties are responsible for enforcing the law, and local governments were given a year to prepare. In 2023, businesses were allowed to continue offering plastic bags if they charged a 10 cent fee per bag.
Local governments receive 60 percent of the fees collected. Businesses keep the remainder.
The responsibility of enforcing the plastic bag ban was put at the feet of local governments, but the law doesn’t outline how governments should implement it. That’s led to an array of approaches.
Denver introduced its own plastic bag fee in 2021, giving it a head start on the statewide ban. The 10-cent fee the county introduced prior to the new ban’s passage meant Denver had relatively few changes to make.
“We have a robust infrastructure in place and the Office of Climate Action Sustainability and Resiliency has been enforcing,” Blake Adams, manager of the city’s Zero Waste and Circular Economy program, said.
While Denver has had the 10 cent fee since 2021, businesses in city limits weren’t required to get rid of plastic bags entirely until the statewide ban took effect. Adams said the city has staff that will visit large businesses to ensure compliance. Businesses that aren’t complying may be subject to warnings or fines.
Other cities, such as Grand Junction, are taking a more passive approach. Tamra Allen, community development director for Grand Junction, said officials are focused on providing information and education to businesses but won’t be sending city employees to verify compliance. Allen said the city is confident businesses will follow the new rules without government interference. “We are actually seeing good compliance to the law,” Allen said.
One incentive for ensuring compliance could be the portion of the 10-cent bag fee businesses are required to pay local governments.
Adams said Denver has collected about $5 million in fees since it introduced it in 2021. Grand Junction collected about $174,000 last year. Pueblo said it doesn’t plan to collect fees until April 2024, at which point businesses will pay a lump sum of what they’ve collected since 2023.
Adams noted the fees have gotten lower as shoppers have adapted to the ban. He expects that to continue when single-use plastic bags disappear all together.
“We actually expect that those remittance fees will drastically decrease over time, which is really the idea of this incentive or this policy – is to not burden customers with additional costs, but incentivize more sustainable behavior,” he said.
The state law declares that “small stores” that operate solely in Colorado and have fewer than three locations do not have to abide by the ban. However, they must continue to charge 10 cents per single-use bag.
Local governments have the option to enact stricter rules starting in July.
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