Boulder’s Disposable Bag Fee, which went into effect on July 1, 2013, was adopted to reduce the estimated 33 million disposable plastic and paper bags Boulder was using annually. The fee is only charged at grocery stores, which are the source of approximately 65-70% of all disposable bag use. The city can estimate the impact of the fee by comparing how many bags are purchased at grocery stores to the estimated bag use before the fee started.
After two full years the fee has reduced bag use at the applicable stores by 69%. A total of 9,079,967 bags were purchased for total fee receipts by the City of Boulder of $544,798. Bag fee funds cannot be used for general government expenses and must be spent on the allowed uses in the ordinance—such as reusable bags for the community, including food banks, public outreach and education, and recycling infrastructure. One example of such infrastructure that the fee is funding is a new vacuum system at the Boulder County Recycling Center to remove plastic bags that clog the automatic sorting equipment.
While many communities that have similar fees saw disposable bag use ramp down over several years and then plateau, Boulder’s experience has been a much higher initial reduction that has remained fairly consistent since it began. More community outreach about the bag fee is planned for this year, and dependent on future trends City of Boulder staff will present options to City Council in the future to further reduce disposable bag use.