Bring Your Own Bag Program

Overview

Denver's fee on disposable bags aims to reduce the number of disposable carryout bags used, littered, and landfilled. The Bring Your Own Bag program:

  • Encourages shoppers to switch to reusable bags
  • Requires retail stores in Denver to charge ten cents ($0.10) for each disposable bag (plastic, paper, or other material including but not limited to compostable material)

This program went into effect on July 1, 2021. Together we can reduce waste, prevent litter, and protect our rivers and streams. 

What you need to know:

  • Retail stores located in Denver are required to charge ten cents ($0.10) per carryout bag.
  • Shoppers can avoid the bag fee by bringing their own bags.
  • The bag fee does 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 are 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.

FAQs

General Questions

Why is disposable bag use a concern in Denver?

More than 100 million disposable bags are used annually in Denver, but less than five percent (5%) are recycled. Plastic bags are produced from non-renewable resources which are 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 need 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 did the Fee on Disposable Bags take effect? 

The Fee on Disposable Bags took effect on July 1, 2021.

How much is the fee?

The fee is ten cents ($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?

All retail stores within Denver that sell personal consumer goods, household items, or groceries must charge the fee. Examples of the types of stores 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 get more information on the Bring Your Own Bag Program 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 ten cents ($0.10) 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.

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 8inx 12in)

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

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. 

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. 

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

Place your recyclables loose in your recycling cart or recycling dumpster. 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.

How the Bag Fee is Used

How is the ten cents ($0.10) bag fee 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 four cents ($0.04) 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 six cents ($0.06) 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.