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Our View: Bill to phase out single-use plastic is timely, wise

When we first heard about the plastics management bill being introduced into the Colorado Assembly this session, we groaned.

In a nutshell, House Bill 21-1162 will ban the use of single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam by retail stores and food establishments.

Our initial response was that 2021 does not seem like the right time to burden retail stores and food establishments with yet another government requirement, no matter how well-intentioned. COVID-19 has wrought too much financial and personal stress on our state’s businesses, especially small businesses.

As it turns out, sponsors of HB 21-1162 have wisely written a bill that doesn’t immediately go into effect. In fact, it has a staged impact: the bill prohibits single-use plastic bags after Sept. 1, 2022 – 18 months away – but allows the use of plastic inventory purchased prior to that time until March 31, 2023 – more than two full years from now. It also gives schools a break, with a longer period to make adjustments.

The bill has been modeled after successful similar bills long in effect, and proven effective, throughout the country. (One of us, a recent arrival in Durango, was shocked to find retailers still handing out plastic bags. This did not fit with our notion of Colorado as a smart and progressive state.)

Beginning Sept. 1 of this year, when the proposed ban would begin to go into effect, stores and food establishments could offer a single-use plastic bag or a recycled paper bag to customers for a 10-cent, per-bag fee (or more, in counties and municipalities who wish to charge more). After Sept. 1, 2022, stores could furnish customers with recycled paper bags for 10 cents apiece.

The fee revenues would be split 60-40 between the city or county where the establishment is located and the establishment itself. The governments can apply the money toward waste management, recycling, composting or similar efforts.

We all know why this is necessary: plastic pollutes our oceans, rivers and streams, kills fish and wildlife, comprises most of the trash on our landscape and our beaches – and doesn’t go away. Plastic use is greater now than ever before and 40% of plastics are used only once.

This bill will merely help nudge us to do what we know we should do: stock our vehicles and panniers with a few recycled bags and take them with us into stores.

Still, we’d prefer that local government make such decisions on behalf of constituents.

The trouble is, Colorado has a state law prohibiting local governments from imposing such a ban. Numerous Colorado local governments have passed a work-around that imposes a fee on bag use, as will Denver effective July 1.

The last time Durangoans considered imposing a bag fee, in 2013, the measure failed by a 56 percent to 43 percent margin.

Single-use plastic bans enacted in other states and municipalities around the country have shown immediate and dramatic reduction in the use of plastic bags and in pollution, as well as reducing problems with recycling equipment caused by plastic bags.

Plastic manufacturers and some retailers and retail organizations oppose bans and fees. Others – who own multiple outlets across the state – say they’d prefer a statewide law, which would be easier to comply with.

If legislators don’t pass a single-use plastics ban this year, perhaps it’s time for local municipalities in the Four Corners Area to address the issue again.

The problem with plastics won’t go away until we have the political will to make it do so.

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