Is it possible plastics could be banned in Colorado this year? That’s what one town recently tried to accomplish. Avon, Colorado recently banned Styrofoam, making it the first town to ban plastic in the state. In doing so, it immediately faced opposition from an old law that prohibits any plastics from being banned. The law going into effect will depend on if the town’s lawmakers can overturn the statute.
Bill to repeal local statute
There was a previous attempt to pass a bill that would repeal the local statute. It never made it out of the Senate committee. As a result of that bill not making it out, this has led Avon to try to pass another bill to not only ban Styrofoam in Avon but to ban it in the whole state of Colorado as well. While there’s been little public opposition, some still have doubts about whether the state will be able to fulfill its environmental goals. Bills proposed in the prior year have been unsuccessful.
House Bill 1300
The story of the ban on banning plastic starts in 1989 when house bill 1300 was passed. Local governments were not allowed to regulate any use of plastic products or materials. An amendment to the law in 1993 added language that also prohibited restrictions of labeling, containers, and packaging. A town attorney named Kevin Geiger believes that at the time the concern was about making sure governments didn’t interfere with what type of plastics were recycled.
Despite the long-standing ordinance, 13 other towns have taken steps to either ban plastic bags or place a fee on plastic bags. In Denver for example, there’s now a plan in effect that puts a 10-cent fee on plastic or paper bags starting July 1st. Avon also instituted this 10-cent fee on their plastic bags too.
It was in the decades after the 1940’s that the development of synthetic polymers exploded in the U.S. Despite all the time learning about polystyrene and other synthetic polymers, it’s still been a difficult task figuring out how to recycle it. Alpine Waste and Recycling in Denver is one company that’s attempted to solve this problem. An investment was made into machines that can compact used foam into heavy blocks. The foams compacted in heavy blocks would prevent them from flying out of trucks.
Nonetheless, the challenge still remains with many other plastic products. A study was recently conducted on the length of time it takes for plastic to decompose. The conclusion was that when exposed to sunlight, it can take anywhere from decades to centuries to recycle. Studies like these heightened the seriousness of the problem for lawmakers like Rep. Emily Sirota. She recently sponsored a bill that bans single-use plastics in an effort to reduce pollution.
Industry response to plastic
Most industries have largely been supportive of the government’s attempts to reduce the amount of plastic in the state. They’ve only desired that laws be implemented that are specific and apply to the whole state. Members of the Colorado Restaurant Association have taken steps forward through actions such as restaurants not offering straws to customers unless they ask. Some lawmakers still fear it might be a problem for businesses, which resulted in the bill on repealing the ban on government regulation of plastics not passing.
Concerns about plastic bans
While a majority of citizens and legislatures want to see Colorado reduce its plastic, some still have reservations. Colorado Sen. Angela Williams placed a vote against a plastic ban bill last February because of her concern about the burden it could place on businesses that deliver and manufacture plastic products. One example cited was national restaurant chains potentially having difficulty with managing take-out packaging in different cities. The Colorado senator supports reducing plastic but thinks there needs to be a slow process in this happening. Others concerned included the bioscience industry. The industry was uncertain whether the bill would unintentionally ban life-saving devices, medical equipment, and medicines that patients need. The U.S. happens to be the number one producer of chemical products in the world.
In an attempt to alleviate concerns from critics, the current plastic bag ban introduced will now include a phase-in period. Under the phase-in period, stores would have to charge at least ten cents for bags used in the first year. By July 2021, stores would no longer be allowed to purchase new bags to sell, and all existing bags would have to be used up by December. After this time period, stores would be fined up to $100 for providing any customer with a plastic bag. The bill also allows for exceptions to the rule, including bags for bulk items such as fruits or vegetables, and also dry-cleaning bags.
Plastic ban across the nation
Outside of Colorado, there have been 95 bills on placing bans or fees on plastic in other states in the past year. The National Conference of State Legislatures has counted eight states so far that have banned single-use bags. Industry groups are hoping to avoid a situation in Colorado where there are different policies in different cities. While environmental advocates would also hope for a statewide law as well, they support towns continuing to implement their own policies because they believe it brings awareness to recycling. Advocates cite the recent 5% growth in recycling in 2018.
While the debate over repealing the ban on government regulation of plastics continues, other solutions are still moving forward. Colorado lawmakers presented legislation that would help to decrease the amount of single-use plastic products. The bill includes provisions that would invest in recycling infrastructure, design plastic products with less waste, require large companies to decrease wasteful packaging, and develop a beverage container refund program. As the alternative solutions are considered, citizens such as Suzanne Jones, the executive director of EcoCycle, feel confident that a bill allowing for bans of plastics will pass this year.
Legislators are also optimistic as well about the future of getting plastic bans passed. Another bill that’s being considered would eventually ban Styrofoam containers used in restaurants and delis by January of 2022. Other materials such as paper might also be worth cutting down as well. In the U.S. alone, there are four trillion paper documents, and they’re continuing to grow at a rate of 22% yearly. The success of waste reduction in Colorado will be something to continue to watch throughout 2020.