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Denver's 'Bring Your Own Bag' program starts July 1

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Starting July 1 in Denver, paper and plastic bags will come with a 10-cent fee

DENVER — Denverites, grab those tote bags before you head into any store, big or small. A new ordinance encouraging shoppers to use reusable bags takes effect Thursday, July 1.

“The new ordinance requires all retailers charge $0.10 for every bag at checkout, paper or plastic,” explained Grace Rink, executive director of the Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency for the City and County Denver. 

Signed into law unanimously by council members in 2019, this new ordinance was given a one-year deferred implementation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rink clarifies that "retailers" are all places where you might use a bag: grocery stores, boutiques, hardware stores – every retail location except restaurants. 

Denver’s 'Bring Your Own Bag' program starts July 1

Rink tells Rocky Mountain PBS that all bags—paper and plastic—have environmental implications. Reusing them is an easy way for anyone who shops in Denver to help make a small, but positive difference.

“We use 100 million disposable bags per year. And by bringing our own back to the store, it's a simple action that every single person can take to really benefit our environment and take care of our beautiful spaces that we all love so much,” added Rink.

The fee is a way to encourage shoppers to switch to reusable bags.

Retailers will be required to charge this fee. They will keep four cents for themselves and pay six cents to the city.

Small retailers are also part of program

Edie Emory moved into the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver six years ago.

“It’s the oldest arts district in Colorado. I liked the flavor [of the area] and the vibe,” said Emory, while giving a tour of the business she now owns, Marvels & Memories.

Originally called Ninni’s & Foffa’s, the pandemic has changed a few things at Emory's shop. Her business partner moved out of country, but Emory’s got a new co-retailer to share the eclectic space, Moon Dance Botanicals.

They’ve downsized, re-strategize and found a way to survive.

We're now focused on sort of the smaller gift, grab-it-and-go thing, as opposed to the larger furniture, which was our original purpose,” explained Emory.

Today, she’s also selling artsy reusable bags at the counter.

Emory sells reusable bags at her store, Marvels & Memories

“They fold up and can fit in a purse. It’s our way to adapt to the Denver Bring Your Own Bag Program,” she added, noting the store has always emphasized the environmental importance of reusable bags.

“We always offered paper bags. We never offered a plastic bag. But what's going to change now, is that I've got an extra thing to track," Emory said. "It's a little bit inconvenient. It's not the end of the world. I mean, I have to file taxes every month anyway.”

Marvels & Memories will likely reduce quarterly paper bag purchases, but the big unknown is how customers—especially many from out of town—will react. Emory is predicting it will be similar to the recent mask mandates. 

“I think there's going to be some people who are fine with it, some people who think it's a wonderful thing. We will probably have some complainers at which point we just go, 'It's a city mandate. I don't have a choice.' So sometimes it's hard to be in that role,” she chuckled.

While Emory is not certain her small gift shop will make much of an impact with the few bags they utilize daily, she’s optimistic that the bigger retail stores will have a positive impact.

She’s thankful for the Denver-supplied signage and will have it posted for customers.

“I think that's going to make a huge difference," she said. "I'm happy to be a part of the overall goal.”

Colorado Voices

Denver Bag Fees Start July 1st


Denver shoppers: Bring your own bag or pay $.10

Environmental improvements and path for future state plans

Grace Rink and her team are hopeful Denver shoppers will jump into this change with enthusiasm.

“Other cities that have a disposable bag fee have shown a 70 percent reduction in the use of disposable bags to within the first year. That's really what we're hoping for,” she added.

In 2023, recently passed state laws will extend this fee statewide. And, in early 2024, plastic bags will be outlawed all together, along with Styrofoam.

What you need to know:

  • Starting July 1, 2021 all disposable bags in Denver will have a fee. 
  • All stores are part of this: hardware, grocery, big box, crafts, gift shops 
  • Restaurants are NOT part of this program
  • City of Denver and partners will be giving away bags at events all summer. 
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "The risk of infection by the virus from food products, food packaging, or bags is thought to be very low."  
  • Bag fees will not be charged for customers who are part of federal Food Assistance Programs
  • More information from the City and County of Denver is available here

Jennifer Castor is the Executive Producer of Multimedia Content at Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at

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