At the Legislature: Single-Use Plastics

According to the EPA, less than 10% of plastics are recycled. As the oceans and landfills become increasingly filled with plastic bags, wrappers, utensils, and containers, many state and local governments are looking at ways to ban or reduce the distribution of single-use plastics. Colorado is no exception; so far during this legislative session, three bills have been introduced regarding bans or restrictions on plastic products.

shopping cart full of groceries in plastic bags
Under current Colorado law, local governments cannot ban the use of plastic bags, but they are allowed to impose fees.

Currently, Colorado has what is called a “preemption law,”* meaning that state law currently forbids local governments from the outright ban of plastics; they do, however, still have the option of charging fees for the items. Aspen was Colorado’s first local government, in 2011, to institute a plastic bag fee; several other municipalities followed, including Denver which will begin a fee on plastic grocery bags in July 2020. This session, Senate Bill 20-010 has been introduced with the aim of repealing the preemption law. The bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Local Government Committee on February 4.

styrofoam cup with plastic straw
If House Bills 1162 and 1163 pass as introduced, food establishments would no longer be allowed to provide plastic straws and styrofoam cups and containers.

Two other bills have been introduced to deal with specific products. House Bill 20-1162 would, if passed, prohibit food establishments from distributing styrofoam cups and containers, effective January 1, 2022. House Bill 20-1163 takes a broader approach. “The bill prohibits stores and retail food establishments, on and after July 1, 2021, from providing single-use plastic carryout bags, single-use plastic stirrers, single-use plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene food service products (collectively ‘single-use products’) to customers at the point of sale,” according to the bill summary. As proposed by this legislation, businesses would have until the end of 2021 to use up existing stores of previously-purchased plastic items. The bill would also allow businesses to provide recyclable paper bags, for a fee.

Colorado attempted several similar bills last year, including bills that would have prohibited stores from providing single-use plastic bags, and restaurants from distributing plastic straws. Repeal of the preemption law was last attempted in 2014. A helpful, non-partisan overview of the issue is Single-Use Plastics Legislation. This Issue Brief from the Colorado Legislative Council explores Colorado’s previous attempts at plastics legislation, as well as laws that have been passed in other states.

In 2019 the Colorado General Assembly established a “Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Study Committee.” While none of the three introduced plastics bills were specific recommendations from this committee, it did examine related issues of recycling, waste management, and composting. A bill to study composting in Colorado has also been introduced. For more on this committee, see their 2019 Final Report.


*Colorado’s preemption law for plastics was passed in 1989, and was updated to its current language in 1993.