Ban plastic bags or spend millions on recycling? Or both? Colorado lawmakers deal with competing bills

Colorado lawmakers have a decision to make: Ban on single-use plastic bags and foam containers from many restaurants and retailers, or keep the plastics as an option but have grocery packers pay fees to increase government recycling efforts by $ 75 million in five years. Or do both at the same time.

The first bill has environmental support and has long been a priority for Democrats. The competition, introduced a week later, comes from the American Chemistry Council. which represents DuPont, ExxonMobil Chemical Company, 3M, and other major plastic product manufacturers.

The proposals introduce alternative courses for Colorado, which has a recycling rate twice as bad than the national average. Plastic regulation is a climate issue as these products pollute air, soil and water sources and emit greenhouse gases when idle in landfills.

These duel accounts are also an example of the impact lobbyists have on the statehouse.

“It’s an attempt by the plastics industry to turn people away from the issue of preventing pollution,” said Rep. Alex Valdez, a Denver Democrat and lead sponsor of the Prohibition Act. “They say, ‘Hey, look here.’ That’s all it is. Does it actually want to solve a problem? No, because they sell plastic and we intend to reduce plastic that ends up in landfills and in our bodies. “

However, Valdez co-sponsor Senator Julie Gonzales believes this view is short-sighted. Although she also believes the alternative bill is a campaign of interference, she said lawmakers should get the industry to put more money into the plastics problem – even if plastic recycling has been a sensitive issue lately given China stopped taking tons of US plastics be recycled.

“I think it’s ridiculous that there are policymakers in this building who think we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time,” said the Denver Democrat. “They’re both good accounts, they should both be passed and put into law.”

“Maybe I was naive”

The Democratic majority of the Colorado legislature generally seems to agree on the harmfulness of products such as single-use plastic bags and styrofoam food containers. Recycling these products is difficult and costly, and the action to ban the products follows a similar but stalled effort in 2020.

Plastics industry officials argue that bans are ineffective because everything that is banned is often replaced with something that is just as expensive or difficult to recycle.

“So if you focus on one type of material, polystyrene,” said Tim Shestek, American Chemistry Council’s senior director of state affairs, “we don’t think it really does anything to address this broader problem of trying to improve it.” ” Overall recycling infrastructure. “

“That’s a total excuse,” countered Eco-Cycle CEO and former Boulder mayor, Suzanne Jones. She heads the state’s largest nonprofit recycler and said the group’s top priority is “moving to reusable products.”

“Second, reusable or recyclable containers must be used. Single-use plastics are not both, ”she said.

Shestek is puzzled by environmental groups’ opposition to the industry law because people like Jones should welcome a cash infusion for a recycling system that all parties consider to be below par.

From this perspective, Republican Senator Kevin Priola of Henderson is trying to sell his colleagues. Priola was recruited to sponsor this bill by the American Chemistry Council and has teamed up with two House Democrats.

“We had a meeting and I told them I don’t see how environmentalists can disagree with the industry building and funding a robust recycling infrastructure,” he said. “Maybe I was naive.”

Environmentalists say the plastics industry proposal is premature as the state health department is due to publish a report shortly to inform future recycling policy.

“I don’t hear (environmentalists) on the other bill saying that we have to wait for the report,” said Priola. “So I’m just a little confused. For once the industry is ready to step up … and they say we have to wait? “

“Welcome to the fight”

Shestek rejects Valdez’s suggestion that his side has ulterior motives, saying they are sitting at the table because they want to be there – so as not to distract policymakers or thwart stricter recommended guidelines emerging from the expected state report.

But one of the industry’s allies in this fight, Rep. Brianna Titone of Arvada, isn’t buying this.

“I understand that, in most people’s opinion, the people who originally introduced this concept are an inherently anti-environmental company,” said Titone, in-house sponsor and trained geochemist. She also said she supports the prohibition bill.

Describing the industry’s fee proposal as “very generous”, “a gift horse”, she said lawmakers should deal with it even if “baiting people not to vote on the other bill”.

Titone also said she would propose a number of changes to the bill in the House to bring environmentalists on board. But it has to get to the house first.

Both calculations are not far. The industry bill is awaiting a hearing from the Senate Finance Committee – originally scheduled for Monday but pushed back as Priola buys time to work on his colleague, and the committee chairman said she wasn’t sure the bill will move forward .

In a separate committee, a provision was withdrawn from the Prohibition Act that would have given local governments the ability to ban or restrict certain packaging materials – a privilege currently excluded from state law. ((Fort Collins will vote Tuesday about a plastic bag ban that many believe would violate this law if passed.)

“For the industry that is finally waking up, welcome to the fight,” said Gonzales. “The time has come, and if you put your money where your mouth is, this is a start. We, as policy makers, will continue to push our own legislation. “

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