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Businesses need to rethink plastic bag, Styrofoam orders

Colorado passes statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam containers

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs into law the state’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, House Bill 21-1162, earlier this month. (Courtesy photo)

Colorado and local business owners, marketing directors and restaurant managers will need to rethink their plastic bag and Styrofoam container orders after the passage of a new Colorado law earlier this month that aims to reduce plastic pollution.

The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, House Bill 21-1162, which was signed into law July 6, represents the second most comprehensive plastic pollution reduction measure in the nation only surpassed by Vermont, said Randy Moorman at Boulder-based Eco-Cycle, one of seven major groups that advocated for the new law for the past three years.

Moorman said the Colorado law addresses “two of the worst plastic pollutants.” The new state law phases out single-use plastic bags, as well as polystyrene food and beverage cups and containers, and it reverses a state preemption law on the books since 1983 that prohibited municipalities from passing their own ordinances to address plastic waste.



“Food-grade Styrofoam is virtually nonrecyclable in our state and is harmful to our health. Bags are hard to recycle, and they are down-cycled into another product,” Moorman said. “Single-use plastic bags are the largest source of litter found in river clean-ups in Colorado. Only 9% of plastic ever produced on this earth has been recycled, and we are not going to recycle our way out of the problem.”

The law bans statewide polystyrene containers, which are petroleum-based products that do not decompose but photo-degrade from the sun into smaller polluting pieces, Moorman said. The state law bans single-use plastic carry-out bags while placing a fee on paper bags to encourage the use of reusable bags.



Winn Cowman, waste diversion director for nonprofit Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, calls the law a good first step. Cowman said the law will require many more local businesses to join the existing plastic bag ban in Steamboat Springs. Cowman called the Styrofoam food container ban section of the law “the most exciting thing for our community,” noting that a limited number of local restaurants and convenience stores still use Styrofoam.

Cowman said business owners looking for greener solutions for to-go containers should look for compostable paper products, not so-called “compostable plastics” that often do not breakdown during the composting process.

“While purchasing compostable plastics is well meaning, that has to go in the trash,” Cowman said. “There are no compostable plastics that I can recommend.”

If businesses are going to use to-go plastics, they should use plastics labeled No. 1 and No. 2 and provide recycling bins, Cowman advised.

Moorman said 17 Colorado towns already have instituted bans and/or fees on single-use plastic bags, ranging from Telluride in 2010 to Vail in 2015 to Fort Collins this year.

Nick Sharp, president of the Steamboat chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said all the restaurant operators he is in touch with “are fine with the new law and happy to be polluting less.”

“The majority of restaurateurs in our community moved away from polystyrene containers a long time ago and are not affected by this portion of 21-1162,” Sharp said. “There are some restaurants that will need to adopt new to-go packaging. Their costs will likely increase and be passed on to the guests.”

Moorman said the prices for alternative, more sustainable to-go containers are decreasing, and the increase in demand statewide will lead to more competition from manufacturers, which will drive down prices. He noted restaurants can simplify the wrapping of leftovers, for example, by using aluminum foil, which can be balled and recycled.

Moorman said advocates of the law are somewhat disappointed the bans will not become effective sooner than the product purchase date of Jan. 1, 2024. Outlets then have six months, until July 1, 2024, to use up the back stock of banned supplies. The time concession was meant to help businesses struggling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and already have a back stock of those supplies. Outlets also must impose a single-use bag fee of 10 cents starting Jan. 1, 2023, which also applies to recycled paper bags.

Moorman said he does not believe businesses will stockpile plastic bags and foam containers, because storage and supply costs are at a premium at most businesses and because the majority of state residents support the plastic pollution reduction measures.

Colorado is the 10th state to ban single-use plastic shopping bags in most stores and the eighth to ban foam food containers, Moorman said. Under the new state law, paper bag fees are returned to the store’s home city or county for use in educational efforts or waste diversion activities, such as recycling or composting and providing reusable bags. Shoppers on state or federal food assistance do not have to pay paper bag fees.


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