Many of us have likely noticed a small increase in the price of our most recent grocery bills, especially if you used the store’s paper or plastic bags to load your groceries. This is because the state of Colorado passed the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (PPRA), commonly known as the “bag ban”, back in 2021. Although the bill was passed nearly two years ago, it just went into effect on January 1, 2023.
Why ban the bag?
You may have seen signs at your local stores and retailers advertising the fee for bags if you choose to use one… but why are they charging this fee? Nine other states across the country have already implemented a plastic bag ban - including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Colorado is the first non-coastal state to enact this ban, and they did it for a number of reasons. There are lots of environmental benefits to stopping the sale of plastic and paper bags. In doing so, we can save money, energy, water, and trees. Plastic bags are made using energy from natural gas and are one of the most common pollutants found in Colorado’s rivers. These plastic bags never biodegrade, which is another environmental issue surrounding the topic of microplastics.
Some argue that paper bags are better than plastic bags, and this is true when it comes to disposal. Paper bags can be more easily reused and can be composted or recycled. However, a paper bag requires lots more water and energy to produce. In fact, it takes about four times more energy to make a paper bag than a plastic one. One gallon of water is used to make each paper bag - which is not so great when you take into consideration Colorado’s water shortage.
What’s in it for you?
Sure there are plenty of environmental reasons to ban plastic and paper bags, but how does the ban benefit you?
The bag fee is required by state law to be split, with at least 40% of the funds staying with the businesses. The remainder is remitted to the local government in which it is required to be used for waste diversion programs! According to the Vail Daily, bag fees in Vail and Avon currently bring in between $20,000 and $40,000 per year which is put towards waste diversion programs for the towns.
The state law also includes a number of exemptions, ranging from small businesses to food retailers. Currently, these stores do not have to charge the $0.10 bag fee unless otherwise noted by the local government. There are more resources linked below that go over information for businesses, municipalities, and communities in more detail!
But it’s a bag ban… not a bag fee?
Although most municipalities and other local governments have implemented the bag fee, there is still more of the PPRA that will come into play next year. Check out the timeline below:
- January 1, 2023 - large retailers and grocery stores begin charging a fee of $0.10 cents for each paper or plastic bag used (recipients of federal or state food assistance programs are exempt from this fee)
- January 1, 2024 - plastic bags are totally banned; Styrofoam (polystyrene) containers and cups are also banned
- April 1, 2024 - retailers must remit 60% of fees collected since January 1, 2023 and on a quarterly basis thereafter
- July 1, 2024 - municipalities will have the power to enact more stringent laws to manage or restrict plastics
It’s important to note that these deadlines are a baseline for the state. Some municipalities and local governments have already had bag fees in place, like Vail and Avon, and are moving at a faster pace to implement other rules and regulations for bags and styrofoam.
What’s happening in Eagle County?
As mentioned above, some towns and municipalities are moving faster than others here in Eagle County. Listed below are the specifics for various towns and municipalities across the county:
The Town of Vail has been implementing a bag fee for a while now. However, Vail did pass an ordinance that raised its bag fee to $0.25 per bag. Businesses in Vail only remit 40% of this fee, meaning they get to retain the other 60%. Vail also extended its bag fee to all its retailers - which is more than what the state is mandating. The bag fees will go toward continuing to fund recycling and waste diversion programs in the town. For example, the Hard-to-Recycle events held biannually for the community free of charge.
The Town of Avon has also had a bag fee in place since 2018. Avon will be keeping their bag fee at $0.10 per bag, but it is important to note that retailers in Avon are not permitted to provide plastic bags to customers at any point of sale.
Unincorporated Eagle County - Edwards and Eagle-Vail
Edwards and Eagle-Vail have implemented the $0.10 fee per bag, as well. However, businesses who are exempt, as defined by the state, must apply for the exemption in 2023. This exemption may expire once 2024 comes around. Some exempt businesses have opted to still collect the fee in order to support waste reduction efforts throughout the community.
Businesses in this part of the county have also been given the option to remit their fees as early as April 2023. Fees will be put to use once the total has been determined.
Emily Dennis is the Zero-Waste Lead at Walking Mountains Science Center