1442px-Physical_weathering_styrofoam_cup_Lake_MIchigan.jpg

A cup made of expanded polystyrene cup washed up on a shoreline. 

First came a fee on single-use plastic and paper bags. Next up could be Styrofoam, plastic coffee stirrers, straws and utensils.

Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black, who recently helped pass an ordinance to charge 10 cents per single-use plastic or paper bag, is eyeing other initiatives promoted by sustainability activists.

Her proposal would ban expanded polystyrene, more commonly (albeit incorrectly) referred to as Styrofoam, and plastic coffee stirrers. She also wants to make plastic drinking straws and utensils available only upon request, although there would be some exceptions, including for schools and facilities that provide patient care.

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Black called her approach a “reasonable way forward,” and the absence of a full-fledged plastic straw ban a “softer compromise.” But her plan depends on the state legislature, which currently forbids local governments from calling the shots when it comes to regulating plastic.  

Senate Bill 20-010, which would have overturned that 1993 preemption statute, was shot down in a Feb. 4 Senate Local Committee hearing. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, and Reps. Meg Froelich, D-Greenwood Village, and Alex Valdez, D-Denver.

Black and Council President Jolon Clark both testified during the Senate committee hearing to speak about the dangers of plastic and the importance of municipal control.

“Denver is unique, and we should be able to manage our waste at the local level,” she said, recapping her Senate testimony during Wednesday’s City Council Policy Committee meeting. “What is good for Denver is not good for other cities in the state.”

Some groups, including the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Nick Hoover, argue that “patchwork” approaches such as this are ineffective.

The Colorado Retail Council is also against the bill. Chris Howes, who represents the council, earlier told Colorado Politics that they want that preemption language to remain in state law. "We want uniformity throughout the state so our stores, which operate in every corner of the state, can have one law on plastics." 

Despite the legislation failing out of committee, Black said state legislators may reintroduce the bill later this month, keeping her plan afloat.

In the meantime, she is watching two other proposed pieces of legislation: House Bill 1162 and House Bill 1163, which would outright ban single-use plastics and/or expanded polystyrene food containers. If either pass, her bill would no longer be necessary.

Both bills are scheduled to be heard for the first time later this month.

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