Colorado Springs shoppers will discover big changes in the new year at groceries, convenience stores, pharmacies and other retailers.

Beginning Sunday, a new state law will require shoppers to pay a 10-cent fee for every single-use plastic and paper bag they carry out of most retail outlets. The measure, approved by Colorado lawmakers last year, is a major first step by the state toward a ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers, which takes effect in 2024.

Some retailers aren't waiting until then, however.

Walmart says it will stop providing plastic bags for shoppers at its Colorado Springs and Colorado stores starting Sunday. A few other retailers say they'll begin to phase out plastic bags in 2023 — though it's unclear how much longer they'll have them in stock.

For consumers, here's a look at the changes they'll find when they shop at their favorite Colorado stores in the new year:

What's happening when it comes to plastic and paper bag usage in Colorado?

In 2021, the Colorado General Assembly approved a law, which was signed by Gov. Jared Polis, that's designed to reduce the use and consumption of plastic bags and polystyrene containers in the state, which the measure's sponsors and supporters said are a source of litter, fill up landfills and don't degrade entirely.

What are some of the key parts of the law?

Starting Sunday, retailers must charge a 10-cent fee for each plastic and paper bag that shoppers load up with groceries, household goods, beauty products and the like, according to the law. The law also allows local governments to impose higher fees. Starting Jan. 1, 2024, retailers are banned from providing single-use plastic bags altogether — though they'll have until June 1 of that year to exhaust their supplies. Also, beginning Jan. 1, 2024, polystyrene products (often referred to as Styrofoam) no longer can be used as takeout food containers. Of revenues collected from the new bag fee, 60% will go to city or county governments where retailers do business; the money will be earmarked for administrative and enforcement costs of the fee and recycling and composting programs, among other initiatives, the law says. Retailers keep the remaining 40% of fee revenues.

Which retailers are affected by the law?

Groceries, supermarkets, convenience or liquor stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, pharmacy or drug stores, clothing shops, festivals and others retailers that provide single-use plastic bags for their products, the law states. But there are some exceptions, such as small stores that operate in Colorado with three or fewer locations and farmers' markets and roadside stands. On the consumer side, food stamp users don't have to pay the bag fee.

How are some major retailers responding?

Bentonville, Ark.,-based retail giant Walmart its discontinuing its use of plastic bags Sunday at local supercenters and neighborhood markets. 

"Walmart is on a path to look beyond both the plastic and paper retail bag and identify solutions that serve a similar function, deliver convenience and reduce our environmental impact," Walmart spokeswoman Lauren Willis said via email to The Gazette when asked why plastic bags are being discontinued effective Sunday.

"We are working hard to ensure a seamless and convenient shift to reusable bags for our customers and associates," her email said. "Eliminating single-use bags is part of our commitment to achieve zero waste across our operations and ultimately shift gradually toward a circular economy built on advancing reuse, refill and recycling habits."

Jessica Trowbridge, a spokeswoman for King Soopers, which is part of the national Kroger chain based in Cincinnati, told The Gazette via email that the retailer already has transitioned to bag fees or bans in several communities.

"As such we don’t anticipate that this transition will be much different, simply on a larger scale," Trowbridge said. She added: "In alignment with our Zero Hunger-Zero Waste goals we continue to work on a single-use plastic bag phase-out strategy, in advance of 2024, that works for our customers as we work to achieve our zero waste goals."

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But Trowbridge didn't respond to a direct question about when plastic bags will disappear from King Soopers stores. This week, some King Soopers shoppers were being told that plastic bags likely will be around for several weeks or even months while the retailer goes through its supplies of bags.

At Safeway, which is owned by Idaho-based Albertsons, spokeswoman Kris Staaf said the retailer will comply with the new state law and that plastic bags will be "phased out" starting Sunday. She didn't know how long the bags will be found in stores, however.

"Several communities in Colorado currently have bag fees and have eliminated plastic bags," Staaf said. "We anticipate this state law transition will be similar to what we’ve seen in other Colorado cities. Safeway stores will have in-store signage notifying customers of the bag fee and we offer a variety of reusable bags at various price points."

So, what will shoppers need to do?

Be ready to pay the 10-cent-per-bag fee starting Sunday. To save that cost, and in keeping with the state law's goal of reducing plastic bag usage, retailers urge consumers to bring in their own reusable cloth and canvas bags and get in the habit of using them. The bags can be purchased at many retailers and online sites; Walmart stores have stacks of them near store counters. Willis, the Walmart spokeswoman, said the retailer will have "no restrictions" on what customers can bring into a store, including using boxes.

What do shoppers think?

Some shoppers interviewed randomly by The Gazette say they won't miss plastic bags and support their discontinuation.

Whitney Gregor, who lives in unincorporated Falcon northeast of Colorado Springs, said she's used cloth and canvas bags on and off for 10 years.

On Wednesday afternoon in the parking lot of Walmart's supercenter near Meridian and Woodmen roads in Falcon, Gregor loaded her car with three reusable bags filled with groceries — including brightly colored Baby Shark and Avengers bags no doubt appreciated by her 18-month-old son, James, and 4-year-old son, Clark, who accompanied her on her shopping trip.

"I hate those bags," Gregor said of plastic bags. "I hate having them all over the house. I'd rather use something that I can reuse instead of just having those plastic bags everywhere."

Her reusable bags, she said, are strong; one held about 40 pounds of groceries, including eggs, bacon, meat and frozen and fresh vegetables.

"They're easy to just keep in your trunk and pull them out whenever you need them," Gregor said. "And I need them at least twice a week."

Nearby in Walmart's parking lot, Chenoa and Nathaniel Withington of Calhan had several plastic bags' worth of groceries they were putting into their car after a shopping trip for their grandparents. But they're ready to transition to reusable bags, the couple said.  

"They're hard to get rid, hard to store and just not exactly environmentally friendly," Chenoa said. "It will be nice to get rid of them."

At a Safeway store parking lot at Austin Bluffs Parkway and Dublin Boulevard in Colorado Springs, Tom Cook said he knows that plastic bags aren't environmentally friendly and can be a nuisance.

Still, he's not keen about paying a fee for using plastic and paper bags starting Sunday, though he's already armed with a handful of reusable Safeway tote bags. 

"I understand that these bags cause a situation with the trash and that type of thing, but I hate to see them go because it will be another 10 cents for a bag and that type of thing," said Cook, a Springs resident. "It seems to never end in this day and age. Costs are always a factor. It's getting harder to make ends meet. But we'll just deal with whatever comes along. I guess we'll have to."

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