Colorado Lawmakers Decline to Repeal Decades-Old Law That Prohibits Plastic Bans

Plastic bags just survived their toughest statewide challenge yet.
Plastic bags just survived their toughest statewide challenge yet. Teague Bohlen
Some laws in Colorado, like one from 1993 that prevents municipalities from banning certain plastics, seem ripe for repeal in this day and age. Politicians and lobbyists can't figure out why that particular law remains on the books, and some municipalities don't seem to care about it, citing home-rule advantage to ban certain plastics.

A bill that would have repealed the 1993 statute died in a state Senate committee on Tuesday, February 4.

Senator Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail who championed the bill, admitted during the committee hearing that she was unsure about the origins of the 1993 law, saying that the reason for its existence had been "lost to history." Regardless, times have changed, she said: "It's time to return this conversation back to the locals."

Environmental advocates, local politicians and local-control advocates testified in favor of the bill. "There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and we must allow communities to decide for themselves how they can manage their waste streams," said Brandy Moe on behalf of Recycle Colorado.

Some municipalities, like Aspen, have gone ahead with plastic-bag bans, existing law be damned. Others, like Denver and Boulder, have instead opted for plastic-bag fees. The mishmash of different laws across the state concerns the business community.

"What we’re faced large trucks going down the highway to service all the stores along the way," said Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council. "Our biggest concern is that the folks on that truck have to know quite possibly 96 municipal ordinances in what will be banned in this village, this hamlet, that city, and what’s allowed. That can be very confusing to our operations."

Stakeholders from the medical equipment industry, the American Chemistry Council and the Colorado Restaurant Association joined Howes in opposing the bill.

"It is that patchwork that scares our members," said Nick Hoover of the Colorado Restaurant Association. "There are a lot of plastics used in the restaurant industry, many of them for health and safety reasons."

Opponents said that they'd be interested in working with lawmakers on bills that promote more recycling of plastics, while representatives of the medical equipment industry said that they could get behind a bill that would exempt medical supplies from local plastics bans.

"I would very much like to see a further conversation around medical devices. I’m horrified around the potential impacts of an accidental ban on those," said Senator Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat.

Democrats are pushing a bill that would largely ban single-use plastics in stores and restaurants across the state and another that would prohibit restaurants from using polystyrene to-go containers.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.