Polis HB1162

Gov. Jared Polis signs House Bill 1162 into law as sponsor Alex Valdez, Julie Gonzales and Lisa Cutter watch on

While Denver's fees for single-use plastic bags went into effect on July 1, it will be 2024 before Colorado's law to ban those bags and polystyrene food containers goes into effect.

In a ceremony Tuesday at the Governor's Mansion, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1162. The law makes Colorado the ninth state to ban single use bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The bill allows retail stores to use up their inventory by June 1, 2024, allowing them to charge consumers a 10-cent fee for those bags beginning Jan. 1, 2023. The fee cannot be charged for those on the SNAP (food stamps) program. Mom-and-pop shops, categorized in the bill as small stores with three or fewer locations in Colorado, also are exempt from the bill. Medical plastics also are exempt from the ban. 

HB 1162 applies to grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience or liquor stores, dry cleaners, pharmacy or drug stores, clothing shops, festivals and any other retailer that provides single-use plastic bags for their products. Farmers' markets and roadside stands are exempt, based partly on the law's allowance for grocery stores and other retailers that can still use single-use plastic bags for bulk items or produce.

The second part of the bill, two years in the making, bans polystyrene, commonly (but incorrectly) referred to as Styrofoam, from use as takeout food containers, beginning Jan. 1, 2024. Food retailers have until then to use up their existing inventory, according to the bill.

But the limited ban on single-use plastic bags may not be the last word on the subject. The law also allows local governments to enact stricter plastic bans than what Polis signed Tuesday. 

Prior to Tuesday, the law included something known as pre-emption, which forbids local governments from imposing stricter regulations on plastics than what's in state law. A 2020 effort to allow local governments to go farther died in the state Senate. Banning pre-emption didn't go over well in the House in the 2021 version, and sponsors agreed to strike that language. But the Senate decided otherwise, and the ban on pre-emption went back into the bill.

“Nothing we use once should pollute our state for hundreds of years," said Danny Katz, executive director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group in a pre-signing statement Tuesday. The law "will phase out some of the worst single-use plastics, and we applaud the Colorado General Assembly for taking action and look forward to Governor Polis signing the bill. As the first interior state to enact comprehensive plastic pollution legislation, Colorado is helping to build momentum to phase out unnecessary and wasteful single-use plastics across the country."

Katz noted that Colorado is the first state to enact pre-emption on plastic pollution. "I hope this groundbreaking step leads to more states removing the restrictions that tie the hands of their local governments and allows our cities to be leaders in reducing unnecessary plastic waste.”

The law was opposed by retailers, restaurants, chambers of commerce and Republican lawmakers who said restaurants have suffered from huge financial losses due to the pandemic and shouldn't be punished further.