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"Single-Use" Disposable Shopping Bags


City Council Repeals Bag Ordinance, Approves Road to Zero Waste Resolution

The City Council on Tuesday repealed the disposable bags ordinance and simultaneously reiterated the City's commitment to reuse and recycling by accelerating zero-waste goals in a new Zero Waste Resolution.

Council voted to repeal an ordinance that would have required all Fort Collins retailers to begin charging 5 cents per disposable bag as of April 2014.

"We heard our citizens and responded – the disposable bags ordinance is not the way to go," said Bruce Hendee, Chief Sustainability Officer. "However, our community has told us that they want us to continue to find innovative ways to increase recycling and environmental sustainability, especially with the Larimer County Landfill filling up. Tonight, we accelerated that road to zero waste by suggesting staff explore some key techniques."

The resolution adopted Tuesday directs staff to take a number of specific, short-term steps:

  • Expand community-wide awareness of measures to prevent waste from being created
  • Construct a new Community Recycling Center in 2015, subject to funding approval, for a one-stop recycling facility that also accepts a variety of hard-to-recycle materials such as electronic waste and certain household hazardous wastes
  • Explore a universal recycling ordinance that would improve access to curbside recycling and organics collection for residents and businesses

The City reported the community diverted more than half of its waste in 2013 through recycling, reuse and composting, but next steps will be more difficult and require a major shift away from outmoded ways of managing waste, said Susie Gordon, City Senior Environmental Planner.

"We will need to think hard about how we can prevent waste from being generated in the first place, look even more closely at finding ways of improving our recycling and organics composting that are convenient for people, and possibly explore further prohibitions on types of materials that really shouldn't be going into the waste stream," Gordon said.

In December 2013, the Fort Collins City Council adopted 11 new waste reduction goals after an extensive nine-month Road to Zero Waste planning process.  More information on the Road to Zero Waste is available at

Community concerns have led City Council to ask staff to examine options in limiting use of single-use disposable shopping bags – i.e. only those provided at checkout. City staff has begun developing a proposal for a "Merchant Regulation" ordinance.

The proposal prohibits grocers from giving disposable shopping bags to customers free of charge, and requires grocers to apply a minimum cost of $0.05 or $0.10/bag for single-use plastic and paper bags. In this proposal, all revenue would be retained by merchants.

An estimated 50 million disposable bags are used in Fort Collins each year. On average, that is 342 disposable shopping bags that citizens go through. Finding alternatives to single-use products and merchandise is an important objective of Fort Collins' 2013 Road to Zero Waste Plan and community Zero Waste goals.

Changing shoppers' use of disposable bags is a key to showing how each of us can personally engage in "Zero Waste" strategies. It reinforces Fort Collins' commitment for achieving Zero Waste goals in addition to supporting the community's greenhouse gas reduction goals; learning new habits to use durable bags is the first step toward other new "reuse" habits that become incorporated into people's daily lives.

The goals of the proposed Merchant Regulation ordinance are to reduce stray litter and pollution in the community (and globally), including plastic bags in trees and waterways; reduce costs for processing recycling at the regional material recovery facility, and costs for cleaning up plastic bags at the Larimer County Landfill and other public areas; and help conserve resources like petrochemicals (used to make plastic bags) and trees.

For more information about the options available to City Council, check out the Triple Bottom Line Evaluation: Plastic Bag Policy Options (PDF 673KB).

What's Happening In Other Communities?

In communities where there is a charge for bags, revenues are typically split between the grocery stores (to assist with costs for what they paid to buy disposable bags) and the local government, which may conduct educational campaigns and create signage, buy reusable bags for citizens, and recover costs to administer and enforce the policy. In comparison, Fort Collins' proposed 2014 ordinance would allow merchants to retain the entire revenue.

At least a dozen countries around the world, an estimated 25% of the world's population, now live in areas with bans or fees on plastic bags.

It appears that at least a 50% reduction in usage of check-out bags occurs in places where regulations are adopted. Washington, D.C., has a charge of 5¢/bag – a reduction of 80% use was documented. Ireland's 15¢/bag reduced use by 90% in three months.

Over 100 countries, cities, and counties regulate single-use disposable bags – a.k.a. "plastic bags" – by either banning them entirely, or requiring stores to charge for bags, to give shoppers a financial incentive to bag their purchases in a reusable bag made of durable material.

It's hard to stay current with exactly how many U.S. communities have regulations on bags because every month seems to bring new reports. However, there are at least 51cities (many in California) and at least 12 counties that regulate plastic bags.

For a national list of plastic bags ordinances, visit

For more information about restrictions on usage of disposable bags in other countries, visit

You Matter

City Council is scheduled to review the proposed Merchant Regulation ordinance at the May 13 work session. Depending on the guidance Council provides to staff at that meeting, the ordinance could be adopted as early as mid-June, with the actual date of implementation to be determined. City staff is seeking public input and involvement to be included in the staff report that will be provided to City Council.

The City's Environmental Services Department held an open house on April 3, 2014, in which the public was invited and encouraged to attend to provide feedback about the proposed ordinance.

As communities around the world continue to discuss the topic, this webpage will remain to educate residents about single-use disposable plastic bags, and also serve as a resource for residents who would like to learn more about reusing and recycling plastic bags.

It is still not too late to comment and provide feedback regarding the proposed Merchant Regulation ordinance - follow us on Facebook and Twitter (links can be found below), or submit comments below.


  • Resources being wastefully consumed – it's estimated that a consumer uses as many as 500 disposable plastic shopping bags per year
  • Although recycling is easily accessible and single-use disposable plastic bags make up less than one percent  of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, the recycling rate is less than five percent
  • Disposable plastic bags are manufactured from polyethylene, a synthetic compound
  • Plastic bags are a litter and visual pollution problem; once loose in the environment, they do not biodegrade
  • Plastic bags may clog storm drains and contaminate waterways, in addition to jamming recycling machinery – creating excess repair costs
  • Plastic bags pose a threat to wildlife and ecosystems


  • The convenience of these bags to be reused to line trash bins, collect pet waste, carry/hold lunch or other items, etc.
  • Plastic bags make up less than one percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream
  • Reusable/durable bags can be unsanitary and pose a health risk due to bacteria and cross-contamination of food products
  • Plastic grocery bags are 100% recyclable and all local grocery stores in Fort Collins now accept dry, clean plastic bags for recycling (nationally, 91-93% of the population have access to local plastic bags recycling)

Want to learn more about what the opposition thinks? Visit or


It's only been 37 years since plastic grocery bags were introduced to the supermarket industry as an alternative to paper bags in 1977.

Restricting usage of single-use disposable bags is the first step toward developing new and other "reuse" habits that become integrated into peoples' daily lives. We can do better.

  • If washed often enough, trash bins do not need to be lined
  • There are a variety of supplies to collect pet waste with, not only plastic bags
  • Hand or machine washing reduces bacteria in reusable bags by >99%
  • Designate a bag for meat and fish products and another for produce, dairy products, and/or other perishable items to avoid cross-contamination


Sort Plastic Bags Image

Plastic bags need to be collected separately; otherwise they create severe problems by getting caught in equipment. Recycling plants spend countless hours of lost time, productivity and money laboring to untangle plastic bags and fix equipment. PLASTIC BAGS CANNOT GO IN CURBSIDE BINS.


All local grocery stores (and even some retailers) accept dry, clean plastic bags for recycling. The look and location of each store's recycling bin may vary.







Susie Gordon
Senior Environmental Planner