Upcoming state ban on plastic bags prompts Steamboat Springs to revisit local policies

Kathy Vaynkof carries reusable grocery bags while shopping at City Market in Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Colorado’s plastic bag ban and fee program goes into effect on Jan. 1, and in 2024, stores will be restricted from providing any single-use bags statewide.

This development prompted Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 20, to discuss how to reconcile the state law with the city’s existing plastic bag ban and fee.

There are a few differences between the city’s existing rules on carryout bags and the new rules going into effect next year, most notably the types of stores that will be affected.

On Oct. 1, 2019, the city banned single-use plastic bags and began charging a 20-cent fee on paper bags, which only applies to markets over 10,000 square feet, including stores such as City Market, Walmart and Safeway.

The state law, however, requires municipalities to charge at least a 10-cent carryout bag fee in all stores except for “small stores,” which are defined by House Bill 21-1162 as stores with three or fewer locations that are not part of a franchise, corporation or partnership with physical locations outside Colorado.

The state’s definition of “stores,” which are subject to the carryout bag fee, applies to most establishments that traditionally provide carryout bags, but also includes farmers’ markets, roadside markets and temporary vendors.

Additionally, starting Jan. 1, 2024, retail food establishments will be banned from giving out polystyrene containers that are often used for takeout food.

Local municipalities can enact higher fees and tighter restrictions than the state’s directions but cannot set lower fees or loosen the state’s regulations.

For Steamboat Springs City Council, there was a question about how to incorporate the state’s definitions of “stores” and “small stores” into city code.

“It would require staff to try to figure out the ownership structure of a store and talk to the owner to find out if it was a corporate ownership, a franchise, if they operated other stores, etc.” said Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s special projects manager.

DelliQuadri asked City Council for direction on whether to follow the state law and exempt “small stores,” or whether to include all stores to simplify enforcement.

“It is really important to keep it simple,” said council member Joella West. “The system we have in place now is simple.” 

City Council preferred including all stores rather than separating them based on the state’s definitions.

Council members were also asked whether to adopt the state’s fee of 10 cents per bag with 60% being remitted to the city and 40% to the business, or to continue with the city’s 20-cent per bag fee that’s fully remitted to the city.

When the city initially implemented its plastic bag fee, stores were able to retain 25% of the money, but according to DelliQuadri, the stores felt it wasn’t worth the extra work to identify their share and agreed to simply remit all of it instead.

“Their overall bag cost went down so significantly that the amount of the fee they could have retained was so very small that it just wasn’t worth even calculating,” DelliQuadri said.

City Council agreed that keeping the city’s current fee policy was preferable.

The city’s bag fee reduced carryout bag usage by an estimated 85%, according to the city’s data. In 2021, the city received $138,000 in bag fees.

Beginning in January 2024, all stores affected by the state’s carryout bag fee will be prohibited from expanding their inventory of plastic bags, meaning customers could only be provided with plastic bags that were already in the store’s inventory. Then, on July 1, 2024, impacted stores will be prohibited from providing any plastic bags to customers.

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