Denver City Council Considering Further Ban of Plastic (Straws!), Polystyrene

Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black.
Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black. denvergov.org
At a December 2019 Denver City Council committee hearing, Councilwoman Kendra Black concluded a presentation on a proposed grocery bag fee ordinance by saying that Denver needed to set its sights on regulating other items that have been clogging local landfills.

"I think this is just a first step," Black said. "We need to do more."

With the ten-cent plastic bag fee ordinance set to take effect in July, Black is now pushing for what she referred to during that December committee hearing as other "low-hanging fruit."

"The proposal that I came up with after getting feedback from you all is that we would ban polystyrene cups and food containers, like you might get from a restaurant, and that we could ban coffee stirrers — they are not recyclable — and then have drinking straws and utensils upon request only," Black said during another council committee hearing yesterday, February 12.

In doing research for this proposal, Black spoke with a variety of different stakeholders, including Denver Health and Denver Public Schools.

Based on that feedback, instead of proposing a blanket ban of polystyrene food and drink containers, such as Solo cups and restaurant to-go boxes, Black suggests that health-care providers and pre-packaged food in stores be exempt from the new policy. She also wants to exempt schools and health-care providers from the plastic utensil ban, and health-care providers and drive-through restaurants from the no-plastic-straw policy.

"Some people are very, very passionate about their straws," Black explained to her fellow committee members.

The proposed ordinance wouldn't affect utensils and straws sold in grocery stores, just ones offered at restaurants. Nor would it affect Styrofoam, which Councilman Paul Kashmann recently referred to in a council committee meeting as "the most evil substance ever invented."

"That would be a huge heavy lift," Black said, referring to the possibility of a blanket plastic utensil, straw and Styrofoam ban across the city.

Plastic straws could become a rare sight in Denver. - FORTTON/ISTOCK
Plastic straws could become a rare sight in Denver.
Black also reached out to the Colorado Restaurant Association when formulating this proposal; she described the group's response as not necessarily supportive, but says it's open to discussion.

The Colorado Restaurant Association declined to comment on the merits of the proposal. "We won’t have a position until a concrete piece of legislation is brought forward. That said, we’d prefer a statewide regulation to a patchwork approach," writes CRA spokesperson Laura Shunk.

The future of plastics and polystyrene on the state level is difficult to predict.

So far, three bills related to plastic or polystyrene have been discussed at the Colorado Legislature this session. One of those bills, which sought to repeal a statewide prohibition against municipalities banning certain plastics, died in a committee last week. But lawmakers are considering reintroducing it with some alterations, according to Black.

She says that she'll wait to see what happens with these state bills before taking any further action against polystyrene and plastics in Denver.
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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.