Starting Monday, Boulder shoppers will need to pay 10 cents for disposable paper or plastic bags at city grocery stores, convenience stores and big-box retailers like Target.
Boulder has handed out more than 36,000 free reusable bags to area residents and shoppers in preparation for the fee going into effect, and city sustainability workers will be outside area grocery stores distributing whatever remains of the 40,000 bags they bought in May.
"Everyone loves free bags," said Boulder business sustainability specialist Jamie Harkins. "Everyone has been really excited to get the bags, and I've been getting good feedback from the store owners. A lot of the big stores have been training their employees."
The City Council adopted the bag fee back in November, but the city put off implementing the fee to give time for an education campaign and for stores to prepare.
The fee came about after students with the Net Zero Club at Fairview High School argued for a ban on all plastic bags and a fee on paper bags.
The City Council decided to pursue a fee on all disposable bags after representatives of Eco-Cycle said banning plastic would cause people to switch to paper, which has its own environmental problems, rather than to reusable bags.
The bag fee applies at all food retailers. Gas station stores will be exempt if food sales account for less than 2 percent of their business.
Retailers will get to keep 4 cents to cover their costs of administering the program. The county recycling center will get 0.9 cents to cover the costs of retrieving plastic bags from recycling equipment.
The city plans to use the rest of the money collected from the fee to pay for education and outreach about reusable bags and to cover the costs of free bags.
The city projects it will collect $216,000 this year from the bag fee and $325,000 in 2014. Washington, D.C., which has a similar bag fee, saw a 75 percent decrease in the use of disposable bags within a year of adopting its fee, but Boulder is projecting only a 50 percent decrease because so many shoppers here already bring their own bags.
Sonja Tuitele, a spokeswoman for Alfalfa's Market, said more than 80 percent of shoppers there already bring their own bags, so they expect the impact to be small.
The store is doing away with its bag credit, though, in response to the policy change.
"We hope that everyone will bring their bags, and this is the new reality," she said.
Whole Foods will keep its bag credit program, in part because so many people donate their bag credit to community projects.
"Our 'Your Change Creates Change' program is alive and well in stores and gives customers the opportunity to donate 10 cents per reusable bag to schools and non-profit organizations of their choice," said Heather Larrabee, regional associate marketing coordinator for Whole Foods.
King Soopers spokeswoman Kelli McGannon said Boulder locations of that grocery store are prepared and support the city's efforts.
"We've been able to come up with a plan that should adequately serve our customers and prepare them for the changes," she said. "It's something that has become important to a lot of people, and we're happy to support the desires of the community."
A spokeswoman for Safeway was traveling Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.
Harkins said city officials are aware that the change could affect low-income residents more and they have worked closely with services agencies like Emergency Family Assistance Association, Boulder Housing Partners and Workforce Boulder County to get free bags into the hands of those who most need them.
They also went door-to-door in Boulder's trailer parks and other poorer neighborhoods to hand out bags.
Randy Moorman, community campaigns manager for Eco-Cycle, said the company looks forward to finding fewer plastic bags in the recycling waste stream. The bags get stuck in equipment, forcing EcoCycle to stop work and manually remove them. But the environmental impact should be much greater, he said.
"From a zero-waste perspective, we're looking to see less of the disposable bags, whether that's in the environment, caught in trees and becoming a hazard to wildlife, and we hope to see less of these bags going to our landfill," he said.
Shoppers at local stores last week mostly spoke positively of the fee.
"I don't have an issue with it," Boulder resident Lisa Searchinger said as she grabbed some reusable bags from her car before entering Target on Friday. "It's what's best for the environment and best for our community."
Matt Flournoy shopped at the Sprouts Farmers Market located on Arapahoe Avenue Friday. He said he previously lived in Australia for a time and became accustomed to using reusable bags there. He said he is happy to see Boulder making efforts to curb wasteful disposable bag use.
"I think it will have a positive impact on other people and they habits they might not otherwise change," Flournoy said.
Jan Pringle carried her groceries in reusable bags as she prepared to leave the King Soopers on Arapahoe Friday, but said she does not support the bag fee.
"I don't like it," Pringle said. "I don't use plastic bags but for travelers and visitors to the city -- things like that -- I think it's pretty rotten. I have been a visitor to another city where you buy what you think you're paying for and suddenly they're tacking on taxes and extra fees. It's like a visitors' tax."
Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino contributed to this report.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or email@example.com.