Denver Government

Denver City Council Could Exempt Diapers From Local Sales Tax

Diapers will likely be exempted from Denver sales tax.
Diapers will likely be exempted from Denver sales tax. Wikimedia Commons
In 2019, Denver City Council passed an ordinance that exempted menstrual products, such as tampons, from local sales tax. Three years later, the Colorado Legislature voted to exempt both menstrual products and diapers from state sales tax. Now Denver City Council is ready to exempt diapers from local sales tax, too.

"It's a way to help save some money for struggling families," says Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5, which includes neighborhoods east of Colorado Boulevard and south of East Colfax Avenue.

Sawyer, together with Councilman Jolon Clark, has brought forward the proposal that would exempt diapers from Denver sales tax, which is currently 4.81 percent.

"It’s not a ton of money," Sawyer admits, noting that the city estimates it collects between $500,000 to $800,000 a year from tax revenue on diaper sales. "But it is at least a little bit of money back in our residents' pockets."

Similar to the state legislation, which Governor Jared Polis still needs to sign into law, the Denver ordinance covers diapers for both children and adults.

"It is 100 percent in line with our values. We’re just catching back up with them," Sawyer adds.

Sawyer is working with Clark on the bill, since he sponsored the 2019 ordinance passed by council to exempt menstrual products from local sales tax.

"One of my staffers brought it up to me, and until that moment, I had zero idea that there was a tampon tax, that the sales tax applied to feminine hygiene products, and I was immediately horrified that that would not be considered a necessity product," Clark recalls. "There was broad support."

Aside from menstrual products, some of the other items exempted from Denver sales tax include livestock, farming equipment, most food products at the grocery store, and prescription drugs.

The measure, which will be up for a final vote on June 27, is likely to pass. All councilmembers have expressed support for it, according to Sawyer.

"I think it's a pretty no-brainer, slam dunk of a thing to repeal the tax and move it to be properly categorized as a non-taxable essential item or a necessity item, which it should have been a long time ago," Clark says.

Although a necessity item, single-use diapers are also a major contributor to landfill waste in the United States, which the city acknowledges.

"Reusable cloth diapers are better than disposable ones. It’s also important to note that there are diapers that are made with compostable materials, but composting programs, including Denver’s, do not accept them. Commercial composting facilities are not permitted to accept human waste of any kind," says Winna MacLaren of the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency.

While he's set on exempting all diapers from local sales tax as soon as possible, Clark thinks that encouraging the recycling of diapers could be explored in the future. The councilman got inspiration for this move a few years back, when he visited northern Italy as part of a National Resources Defense Council trip to study food waste. During that visit, Clark toured an Italian diaper-recycling facility.

"They created a place where they put the diapers in, and they're literally recycling the plastic from the little stick tabs and the filler from the diapers," Clark says. "Could we bring a diaper recycling plant to Colorado like they have in Italy or other places? That's another conversation...maybe someday we'll get there."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.