Boulder County Governments Likely to Act If State Gives Them Power to Ban Single-use Plastics, Other Materials

February 26, 2019
Dawn Nielson chooses apples at Alfalfa's on Monday. Alfalfa's provides paper and plastic bags for produce, and is looking for a provider of hemp-based, compostable bags to replace the plastic sacks.

Boulder County’s local governments could spring into action if either of two bills that would allow limits on use of plastics get passed this year by the state Legislature.

The bills include one already under consideration, and another that could be introduced this week, according to Harlin Savage, spokeswoman with Eco-Cycle, operator of the Boulder County Recycling Center. Both bills seek to give cities and counties more authority on regulating the use of plastics and other materials by either striking or working around language in a 1993 law prohibiting local bans on items such as plastic shopping bags and containers, packaging and labeling materials.

The bill that has been introduced, SB19-034 , would give local governments authority to require restaurants and other establishments to use takeout food containers that can be recycled or composted. It would allow a narrow exemption to the 1993 rule prohibiting local material bans.

The second bill , when introduced, would go further, reestablishing the power of local governments to implement bans on not only takeout containers, but plastic materials in general, such as bags, packaging and labeling. It has been backed by the Colorado Municipal League after the organization’s executive board initiated work on such legislation.

Eco-Cycle, while in favor of regulations to curb single-use plastics, came out against another bill that would have mandated restaurants across the state only provide plastic straws to patrons upon request. That measure was killed by a House committee on Monday. The Boulder-based nonprofit’s objection was based on the now-dead bill’s preemption of a local government’s authority to further prohibit the use of plastic straws.

But banning plastic bags and other single-use, environmentally harmful materials might not have to be accomplished by each individual city and county government desiring to do so, depending on the version of the Colorado Municipal League-backed bill that gets introduced.

Boulder County Senior Policy Analyst Mark Ruzzin said the league-led effort could include a statewide plastic bag ban, while also rolling back preclusions on local government bans of other plastic materials.

“I can’t speak to the details of a bill that hasn’t been introduced,” Colorado Municipal League lobbyist Morgan Cullen said, adding that removing the preemption of local government bans on plastics and other materials is the league’s priority.

“Right now, there are residents, they want to be able to petition their local government to try and reduce the amount of single-use waste consumption in their communities,” Cullen said. “And they’re currently precluded from doing that.”

The statewide plastic bag ban would give “certainty to industry,” preventing a “patchwork of (differing) regulations” across the state, Ruzzin said.

But Carl Castillo, Boulder policy advisor, said for city leaders the prospective plastic bag ban across Colorado is not the important part of the soon-to-be-proposed bill. They are more excited about gaining the ability to quash the use of wasteful materials, he said.

Styrofoam containers might be Boulder City Council’s first target if the bill were to pass, Castillo predicted, and considering a ban on plastic straws could be next in light of the bill getting killed Monday.

Longmont City Councilwoman Marcia Martin said some residents have requested the city implement either a plastic bag ban or a fee charged to those who use them similar to one in Boulder. The fee in Boulder paid for the addition of vaccums that daily remove up to 2,000 pounds of plastic bags from the recycling stream at the Boulder County Recycling Center. The vacuums were added in September at a cost of more than $400,000.

Boulder County’s Ruzzin said there could be a coordinated effort among local governments, too.

“Should the (Colorado Municipal League-backed) bill become law, the county will look at how to best utilize the authority it will provide to pursue the community’s zero-waste goals. I imagine such an effort would be coordinated with the municipalities across the county, in order increase the positive impact of such efforts,” he said.

Some Boulder County businesses have already taken the lead on cutting out of their operations waste generated by single-use items.

Jefe’s Tacos and Tequila and The Roost no longer stock plastic utensils in their Longmont restaurants. Alfafa’s grocery stores in Boulder and Louisville have no plastic shopping bags at checkout — paper only — and its leaders are currently looking for a provider of hemp-based, compostable bags to replace the plastic bags for picking fruits and vegetables in the produce department.

“We’re trying to be out ahead of government and make these changes before they are dictated to us,” Alfalfa’s CEO Tripp Wall said.

King Soopers, one of the state’s largest grocers, already is committed to phasing out plastic bags as part of its initiative to convert its stores to zero-waste facilities by 2025.

“We are being cautious and responsible in phasing out plastic bags without passing the cost to our customers,” King Soopers spokesman Adam Williamson said. “The phase out of single use plastic bags is part of a much larger goal and we invite our customers to start using their reusable bags now to help us get there faster.”

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .