Shopping Bags

Several Denver City Council members are calling for a crackdown on flimsy plastic grocery bags that are fated for landfills.

City Councilwoman Kendra Black said she’s working with Councilwomen Debbie Ortega and Stacie Gilmore to draft a bill to ban single-use plastic bags.

The details of the proposal have yet to be worked out, Black said. It might not be an outright ban; instead, the council members might propose charging shoppers a fee for disposable bags.

“We’ll come to the council with a few different options, and then we’ll decide which one of them we want to move forward with,” she said.

Black hopes to introduce the bill this fall in Denver. She's reached out to the state retail and restaurant associations to gather input. 

"We’ve just gotten accustomed to the convenience of (the bags),  but they’re really not necessary," she said. "Most of them end up back in the waste stream. They aren’t reused or recycled."

Colorado Springs City Council might explore the pros and cons of implementing a similar measure, said Council President Richard Skorman. 

He wasn't aware of any council members proposing plastic bag bans in the past and said the council had never received a formal informational report on the issue from staff. But Skorman said he'd like to learn more. 

"I would like to see what happens up in Denver because I certainly am interested in it," he said. "I think that every community has a responsibility to reduce that single-use plastic." 

But his fellow councilman, Andy Pico, disagrees. Pico said he feels customers are entitled to the choice of paper or plastic bags at checkout. 

"I think it’s a dumb idea," he said. "I don’t think it’s necessary."

About 10 other municipalities in Colorado have implemented some sort of legislation to cut down on single-use plastic bags, she said.

Boulder charges a 10-cent fee for disposable plastic and paper bags at grocery stores. After adopting the ordinance in 2012, the city saw plastic bag use fall by 70 percent; that trend, though, has since leveled, according to the municipal website.

Since September 2018, Crested Butte has barred the town’s businesses from issuing the disposable bags to customers at checkouts.

The bags are prohibited in Aspen, too, although shoppers can pay 20 cents for a “recyclable, and compostable paper bag,” the city’s website states. Telluride and Breckenridge have bans, as well. 

Black said the Denver city council members are also looking at policies in New York and California, where there are statewide bans on the bags. 

In 2013, Ortega sponsored a measure that would have charged consumers 5 cents per plastic or paper bags at food stores. But the bill failed after Mayor Michael Hancock threatened to veto it. 

"The world has changed recently. I think there’s a lot more support for it," Black said. “The time is now to do it here.”

Council members expressed support for the idea when it came up at a recent meeting of the Policy Committee, she said.

Black also plans to introduce another measure that would prohibit the use of city funds to purchase single-use plastics, such as bottled water and plastic food containers. 

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