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Colorado businesses are required to charge consumers a 10-cent fee for each plastic and paper bag they carry out of the store starting Jan. 1.

That’s because of a bill passed by the state legislature in 2021 and signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat. 

The fee, which isn’t subject to the state’s 2.9% sales tax, may be higher if a town, city or county enacts a higher charge. 

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People who are in federal or state food assistance programs don’t pay the fees as long as they can prove that they are enrolled in one of those programs.

Businesses are required to send 60% of the bag-fee revenue they collect to the municipality they operate in. If the business is within an unincorporated part of a county, the money will be sent to the county. 

Local governments would be required to spend the money on the following initiatives: 

  • Bag-fee enforcement costs
  • Waste-diversion programs, including outreach and education 

The remaining 40% of the bag-fee revenue will be kept by businesses.

Stores that collect less than $20 in bag-fees in a given quarter don’t have to remit the revenue to their municipality or county and can keep the money.

Plastic bags will be banned in Colorado starting in 2024, with some exceptions

The 2021 bill also bans the distribution of all single-use plastic bags in Colorado starting in 2024. But there are asterisks.  

Restaurants that prepare or serve food in individual portions for immediate on- or off-premises consumption would be exempt, as would stores that operate solely in Colorado and have three or fewer locations.

Businesses that are still allowed to offer plastic bags must collect a fee of at least 10 cents on each bag. The fee may be higher if a city or county enacts a higher charge. 

Say goodbye to styrofoam

It’s not just plastic bags that are being done away with. The 2021 bill also bans polystyrene products — also known as styrofoam — across the state starting on Jan. 1, 2024. 

The only exception is that restaurants will be able to continue using styrofoam products for takeout after that date until their existing inventory is gone.

MORE: How will Colorado’s new bag fee impact your life? Just look to the cities that already have bag charges.

What if businesses don’t comply?

Municipalities and cities will be able to sue businesses that don’t comply with the new bag-fee and styrofoam rules. 

They also may assess the following fines:

  • $500 for a second violation 
  • $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation 

The fines can be assessed per violation during a retail sale. In other words, if a business illegally handed out 10 plastic bags during one transaction, they would be considered to have violated the law only once.  

The measure also repeals a state prohibition barring local governments from introducing restrictions on plastic materials that are more stringent than the state’s.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...