Colorado lawmakers OK ban on single-use plastic bags, polystyrene in stores

Colorado Democrats have passed a bill banning single-use plastic bags and polystyrene products in many stores and restaurants.

The House gave final approval to HB21-1162 on Tuesday and it heads now to the governor’s desk. On top of the bans, the bill also proposes to empower local governments to pass their own fees and bans on certain packaging products that go beyond the state’s.

“This is about changing people’s habits,” said bill sponsor Rep. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat who’s wanted this policy since she took office in 2019. “I think we need to start moving in the direction of being better managers of our resources.”

The various rules in the bill would go into effect at different times. The polystyrene ban would go into effect on Jan. 1, though school cafeterias would have extra time to comply. The single-use plastic bag ban would go into effect on Sept. 1, 2022, after which point stores would be allowed to provide paper bags to customers for a 10 cents each. The ban on local government regulations would lift July 1, 2023.

Chain stores, restaurants and big-box stores would be affected the most, though the bill exempts businesses with three or fewer locations in the state as long as they aren’t a chain with locations outside the state. Farmers markets and roadside farm stands are also exempt.

Plastic products from small retailers or farm stands are no less environmentally ruinous, but bill sponsor Rep. Lisa Cutter said it was a concession.

“Am I entirely happy with them? No, I’m not,” she said. “But at the end of the day we have to get the bill signed, or nothing changes.”

Gov. Jared Polis supported exemptions for smaller operators, bill sponsors said, but also pushed for the local control of regulations, which at one point was stripped from the bill.

“Our association was very disappointed to learn that the Senate planned to change the bill back,” said Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council. “If we had known, then we would have simply stayed opposed to the bill for the last two months, instead of working toward an agreement.”

Bill sponsor and Senate President Leroy Garcia said, “You know, look, that’s just a deal on behalf of industry. It was never agreed to by me.”

“This was important to the Senate Democrats,” he added. “It takes two chambers to be able to pass a bill.”

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