Hundreds of laws and ordinances across the country ban or tax plastic bags — including in 11 Colorado municipalities. Denver could be next.
An estimated 250 million bags are used by Denver residents every year, according to the city. But after unanimous approval of a proposed ordinance during a City Council Finance and Governance Committee meeting Tuesday, consumers might be charged a dime for every plastic or paper bag they use to carry home their goods and groceries as early as July 1.
“This is just a first step” said Councilwoman Kendra Black, who is pushing the ordinance alongside council members Stacie Gilmore, Deborah Ortega and Jolon Clark. “It is time for Denver to do this. But we need to do more.”
The proposal would give retailers 4 cents from every grocery bag sold, and the city would pocket the other 60%.
This isn’t the first time the city’s considered a grocery bag tax or ban. In 2013, Ortega sponsored charging consumers a nickel for every nonreusable paper or plastic bag.
Ortega’s bill failed after Mayor Michael Hancock threatened to veto it because “he felt at the time it would negatively and disproportionately impact low-income residents,” spokeswoman Theresa Marchetta wrote in an email.
In 2018, the City Council considered a ban on plastic bags but tabled the measure until they had support from the state Legislature.
Black said she’s been assured by Colorado lawmakers that her proposed ordinance will have backing. In 2020, state lawmakers may repeal a 1993 statute, she said, which served as the basis of a 2012 lawsuit by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers against the city of Aspen for a 20-cent paper bag fee.
“No unit of local government shall require or prohibit the use or sale of specific types of plastic materials or products or restrict or mandate containers, packaging, or labeling for any consumer products,” the statute reads.
The legal challenge died in 2018, when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the two dimes collected were a fee, not a tax. Black’s proposal has the support of Hancock, Marchetta said.
“The mayor has always been more supportive of a ban, but he listened to advocates and heard a fee is more impactful to promote behavior change first,” she said.
Supporters of the measure include the Colorado-Wyoming Petroleum Marketers, Colorado Retail Council and the Downtown Denver Partnership.
At least eight states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont — have banned plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Boulder saw a 70% reduction “immediately following” the implementation of a 10 cent bag fee, the city said. Boulder has raked in more than a million dollars since the fee went into effect in 2013. Even with fewer bags in use, Denver stands to gain as much as $7.5 million annually.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal Dec. 16 and is positioned to vote on the measure Dec. 23.