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How will Colorado's new plastic bag tax impact your life?

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With statewide plastic bag fees arriving in Colorado on January 1. 1, ushering in a new era of reuse and recycling, governments and private companies are stepping up efforts to make the transition meaningful and achievable.

Walmart is jumping beyond the state’s new plastic law and completely foregoing disposable bags — plastic or paper — at its Colorado checkouts. Delivery customers can still pay 10 cents for paper bags, but everyone should bring reusable bags or buy what Walmart calls its affordable options.

Fort Collins distributes thousands of reusable bags, washes and distributes donated “lightly used” bins, and points to initial studies in its pre-existing city law showing plastic fees reduce the use of hard-to-recycle bags by 85%.

And conservation groups are eyeing the second part of the statewide waste reduction law that goes into effect in January. 1, 2024, banning most polystyrene takeout containers. Colorado is making real progress, they say, in breaking a cycle of wasteful consumption that produces too much unrecyclable plastic and warms the planet with excessive use of fossil fuels.

“When the Plastics Pollution Reduction Act was passed, it was the second most comprehensive plastics reduction law in the country,” said Randy Moorman of nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle. “For Colorado to be a leader in this area, it’s really important.”

For environmental groups, the act of banning single-use bags is both effective and symbolic: for them, plastic bags stuck in tree branches and choked river banks represent a consumer-driven economy. on fossil fuels which desperately needs new safety barriers.

The 2021 law achieves several major milestones:

  • From Jan. 1 through the end of the year, retailers must charge 10 cents for each disposable plastic or paper bag used by customers. Smaller retailers still get exemptions, and cities that have passed laws charging even more can keep their laws.
  • From Jan. From 1 2024, retailers can only supply recycled paper bags at 10 cents each; plastic bags are prohibited.
  • Styrofoam or Styrofoam food containers are banned in Colorado on January 1. 1, 2024.

Conservation groups are also trying to get plastic take-out utensils banned statewide, but have yet to be successful. Some local governments have passed a ban on single-use utensils.

Walmart, while jumping ahead with an immediate self-imposed ban, wants customers to know that higher baggage fees in some locations are the result of prior local laws. Steamboat’s Walmart, for example, will continue to charge 20 cents for delivering a bag, while Frisco will charge 25 cents, Walmart regional spokeswoman Lauren Willis said.

“Our focus will remain on making the transition as easy as possible for our customers, including offering multiple affordable reusable bag options and the continued convenience of paper bag delivery,” Willis said.

Recycling and reduction advocates are all for any business or jurisdiction going above the state’s new minimum.

“This is great news from Walmart taking the lead in reducing unnecessary, single-use plastic bags,” Moorman said. “We hope other retail stores will follow their example. Large retail stores like Walmart are the main source of plastic bags found in our environment.

Fort Collins passed its own 10-cent bag fee and recycling expansion measures in 2021, and fees began in mid-2022. With two-quarters of fee collections now behind them, Fort Collins has seen an 85% reduction in plastic bag use, said Holly Pummell, senior sustainability specialist for the city of 169,000.

“So far it’s been very successful,” Pummell said.

Fort Collins prepared for its local ordinance and pending state law by distributing 10,000 reusable bags at community events and targeting 300 low-income households for three free reusable bags each.

Similar to bag fees implemented by the state, local ordinances are designed to split the 10-cent fee between retailers, to cover the costs of collecting the fee and providing alternatives, and the local government, which can use the proceeds to promote recycling and other climate change. oriented programs.

Fort Collins officials are also working with local restaurants and other food businesses to prepare for the 2024 styrofoam ban, helping them find replacement containers and reminding them how long they can use the existing stock after January 1st. 1 of this year.

“We learned a lot from implementing our disposal bag,” Pummell said.

King Soopers Colorado spokeswoman Jessica Trowbridge said the state’s largest grocery chain is gearing up for Jan. 1. 1, and is also continuing work on its Zero Hunger/Zero Waste project to completely eliminate disposable plastic at checkout by January 2024.

“We have already put up in-store signage to help educate customers on bag fee legislation and will also be increasing the number of reusable bags available for purchase,” Trowbridge said.

A 2020 review by Steamboat of the first year of its local plastic bag tax found a similar 85% drop in plastic bag use from the previous average. Staff estimated that Steamboat shoppers used around 580,000 bags a year once the charges started, down sharply from the 3.8 million bags used in previous years. The fee also generated about $74,000 for the city’s waste reduction and recycling account, which was used to educate people about reusable bags and to implement two other waste reduction and recycling projects. .

Coloradons shouldn’t overlook the impact of new local and state laws on their beloved outdoor environment, Moorman said. When the frost blew in from Wyoming on Wednesday afternoon, there were fewer bulk plastic bags to blow in towns across Colorado, and there will be far fewer next year.

“This waste is impacting our quality of life,” Moorman said. “So we think that’s a very important step for us to take.”