Environment Colorado call

Environment Colorado met with about 400 children Wednesday to lobby lawmakers to pass a bill phasing out plastic bags and other single-use plastic packaging. The bill passed its first House committee on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

The idea isn't new, but it's never looked stronger: Democrats at the Colorado House are poised to ban plastic bags and polystyrene foam cups and containers this year.

With Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and an environmentally attuned governor backing it, House Bill 1162 would phase out the single-use plastics, which are not feasibly recyclable.

The bill passed the House Energy and Environment Committee Thursday evening on an 8-5 party-line vote, after hours of testimony marshaled by advocates overwhelmingly in support the legislation. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Alex Valdez of Denver and Lisa Cutter of Littleton. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver.

If the bill becomes law, stores and eateries would have to stop providing single-use plastic carryout bags after Sept. 1, 2022, unless the inventory of bags was bought before that and used before March 31, 2023.

Establishments that don't participate in the law would pay $500 for first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent citation from their local government.

The bill would also overturn a state law that limits local government's power to restrict the use of plastics.

The retailer would be authorized to charge customers a 10-cent fee for each single-use bag, similar to laws adopted in Denver and other Colorado cities. The legislation proposed 60% of the money go to the municipality and 40% to the store or restaurant owner.

Supporters argued Thursday that change is gradual, not much more expensive — about a nickel per gross of cups — and over time will lessen plastics in the environment.

"It does not biodegrade," Valdez said of the plastics in question. "It was designed to be that way. There are uses where plastic is a good product. Trash isn't one of them."

He said the changing economy that relies more heavily on deliveries will only worsen the problem if policymakers don't make gradual, lasting changes.

Rep. Dan Woog, a Republican from Weld County, questioned the timing with an economy that's hurting and legislation that targets small businesses "to put additional hardships on them by banning a product most use," he said. "They're going to have to switch to a more expensive product, probably."

Valdez represents downtown Denver, home to scores of restaurants and stores. He said he has convened with many of the business owners in his district and found most are already moving away one-use plastics, because their customers expect it and the price is negligible.

The more that paper and other recyclable products become the norm, marketplace economics will bring the price down farther, he said.

The single-use plastics in question in his bill are not recyclable and spend decades in landfills, oceans or blowing around in the streets. 

"We cannot recycle our way out of this issue," said Hannah Colazzo, the state director for Environment Colorado. "And while our climate, health and air all are reasons enough to phase this out, think about the values of stewardship and conservation that I know all Coloradans have.

"And right now we're using products for five minutes that pollute our planet for hundreds and hundreds of years."

The day before, Environment Colorado lined up 400 children to make the case to about 20 lawmakers online, as well.

Besides the bill sponsors, the call included first gentleman Marlon Reis and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat from Lafayette.

“I firmly believe that a young person can make a difference in society," Neguse said in a statement released Friday by Environment Colorado. "Young people are the future, and their voices need to be heard. The Earth needs our help. Too much of the plastic we create ends up in our oceans. Things we use for five minutes affect the health of the planet and the health of others for hundreds of years. But who better to save the future than the future itself?”

Reis assured the kids he and the governor have a clean environment as a high priority.

“Future generations are counting on us to leave the Earth better than we found it. I hear you loud and clear, the Polis administration hears you loud and clear, and our state is making real measurable progress in reducing our carbon footprint and acting on the work that Environment Colorado students are advocating for to protect Colorado,” Reis said, according to Environment Colorado.

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