A group of Colorado Democrats and environmental advocates hope 2021 will be the year they can pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and foam containers.
Reps. Lisa Cutter of Dakota Ridge and Alex Valdez of Denver, both Democrats, plan to sponsor the legislation in the Colorado General Assembly this year. A draft of the bill wasn’t available by Feb. 11, and the lawmakers said they were still working out the specifics — like methods of enforcement and the timeline for businesses to get into compliance.
The lawmakers said the legislation would pertain to plastic bags, like those that customers get from the grocery store, and plastic foam takeout containers from restaurants. Straws won’t be included.
The production of plastic releases toxic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, said Hannah Collazo, state director of advocacy group Environment Colorado.
“We see plastic litter our streets. We see plastic litter our public lands and our parks, but what we usually do not see is plastic’s impact on our climate,” Collazo said at a Feb. 9 virtual news conference announcing the upcoming bill. Collazo said Environment Colorado had collected 41,000 petition signatures from Coloradans across the state calling for more restrictions on single-use plastics.
While legislators have tried in the past to pass statewide restrictions on single-use plastics, this effort would go further by also allowing cities and counties to implement their own bans, as long as they are at least as strict as the state’s.
“One of the main reasons I became a legislator was to leave the world a little better for our children,” Cutter said at the news conference. “My own children are concerned about the planet … Children shouldn’t have to carry that kind of worry.”
“Less than 10% of plastic ever made has been recycled, and only 30% of the plastic made is currently in use,” Cutter added.
Should the legislation pass, Colorado would join eight other states that have banned single-use plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Still, the bill’s supporters encountered national pushback within days of announcing their plans.
Consumer Choice Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates against state and federal product regulations, sent out a Feb. 10 press release opposing the legislation, arguing that banning plastic bags would lead to alternatives that were more environmentally harmful.
The group cited a 2017 Denmark study that found paper bags would have to be reused 43 times to have the same environmental impact as a plastic bag. Cotton reusable bags would have to be reused more than 7,000 times, the researchers found. (That study has some notable limitations.)
“Rather than enacting a bag ban, state legislators should focus their efforts on reclaiming plastic bags,” David Clement, North American affairs manager for Consumer Choice Center, said in the statement. “A focus on reclaiming plastic would allow for innovative advanced recycling processes to be implemented, like chemical depolymerization, which keeps plastic waste in the economy and out of the environment.”
But during the news conference, Randy Moorman — director of legislative and community campaigns at Eco-Cycle — said many types of plastics currently can’t be recycled.
“The biggest challenge is that there are not enough companies buying recycled plastics to make them into new products,” said Moorman, who supports the legislation. “Additionally, plastics are very costly to collect and separate for recycling.”
Bill supporter and Telluride restaurant owner Megan Ossola said that while a paper cup typically costs her between 1 and 2 cents more than a plastic foam cup, it’s easier now than in the past for businesses to make more sustainable choices.
“Where polystyrene used to be the only inexpensive option for carryout, this just is not the case anymore,” Ossola said at the news conference. “As COVID and the takeout needs sort of dwindle, we are in a great time right now to sort of capitalize on the increase in production from a lot of the paper product companies, and I think that the difference in price will go down as the competition for our business increases.”
Utah State University researcher Janice Brahney said she was happy to hear that restrictions on single-use plastics were being considered in Colorado.
In a 2020 study published in the journal Science, Brahney and her colleagues found that microplastic pollution infiltrated remote national parks and wilderness areas, after plastic particles were transported there through dust and rainwater.
“Plastics do not break down appreciably into their component elements, instead they fragment into smaller and smaller pieces — until they can be transported anywhere around the globe and end up in the food chain,” Brahney wrote in an email. “The implications to human health and the environment are not well understood, but the research suggests that microplastics are not innocuous.”
Brahney, an assistant professor in Utah State’s Department of Watershed Sciences, said she hoped other states would consider similar legislation.
“It makes little sense to produce a product that will be used for 10 seconds or even one day to have it then remain in the environment for the next several hundred years or longer,” she wrote.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 3:31 p.m., Feb. 12, 2021, to include quotes from Janice Brahney.