NEW LAW ABOUT TO KICK IN
By Suzie Romig
Pilot & Today
Owners of retail businesses and food and drink establishments likely are carefully considering their orders for disposable containers and carryout bags this fall as a statewide ordinance will kick in Jan. 1 to ban carryout plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.
Steamboat Springs Community Recycling Coordinator Alicia Archibald will be pounding the pavement in November and December as she plans to visit some 300 food and drink establishments within the city limits to help educate on the new Foam Free in the ’Boat campaign.
In 2024, expanded polystyrene containers such as plates, bowls and clamshells, commonly referred to as Styrofoam or plastic foam, will be banned statewide at retail food establishments including restaurants, convenience stores and markets.
The new foam ban outreach goes hand-in-hand with Archibald’s current work educating about recycling ordinances and disposable bag fees through the existing Bag Free in the ’Boat campaign.
The sustainability and waste reduction efforts fall under the city’s overall Spur Change initiative and the statewide Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.
“This year we have focused on education and outreach to all stores regarding the carryout bag fees,” Archibald said.
“We found that there were stores that were unaware of the fees. I have seen the number of stores complying increase significantly in the past year.”
Archibald said almost 100 retail stores are now collecting and remitting the 20-cent city-established fees on disposable carryout bags. Stores can retain four cents on each bag sold.
The disposable bag fee ordinance in Steamboat began Oct. 1, 2019, following advocacy from the Steamboat Springs Teen Council.
The bag fee initially applied to the four stores larger than 10,000 square feet, including Walmart, City Market, Safeway and Walgreens. The city reports that disposable bag usage has dropped by 85%.
On Jan. 1, Walmart stores across Colorado eliminated disposable plastic and paper bags at check out, encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags and selling reusable Walmart bags at low rates.
After Jan. 1, 2024, stores in Colorado will only be able to sell carryout paper bags with recycled content for 20 cents and not carry-out plastic bags.
Archibald said a variety of stores in Steamboat already are not selling any type of disposable bags and instead are selling reusable bags or providing product cardboard boxes for carryout.
Between Jan. 1 and June 1, 2024, a store may provide a plastic carryout bag for the 20-cent fee only if that plastic bag comes from remaining inventory purchased in 2023. Stores may continue to sell recycled paper bags for a 20-cent fee in 2024.
“For me as a retailer, the biggest issue is people don’t really understand what the 20 cents goes to,” said Chris Dillenbeck, owner at F.M. Light & Sons.
Archibald said the remitted fees average $125,000 per year and are used to support the city’s recycling education and outreach efforts, including the community recycling coordinator position and the Yampa Valley Recycles Depot outlet for hard-to-recycle items such as electronics, light bulbs and batteries.
Limited types of bags are exempt from the city- and state-mandated bans and fees if stores wish to provide those, such as plastic bags for bulk produce or bulk-item nuts and bolts, or small paper bags for wine or for medical prescriptions, Archibald explained.
Another exemption is a restaurant may choose to supply a disposable plastic bag for carryout of hot foods that might leak out of to-go containers and paper bags.
Dillenbeck said his business operation is trying to exhaust a stock of signature-branded yellow plastic bags by also utilizing those at the company’s two other retail stores in downtown Steamboat.
His stores will transition to branded paper bags with handles, which he said cost more than the plastic version.
According to Eco-Cycle in Colorado, polystyrene is unhealthy for consumers, the planet and employees that produce it. Chemicals from Styrofoam or plastic foam can leach into foods. Eco-Cycle notes that plastic bags are made from natural gas, never biodegrade and are one of the most common pollutants found in Colorado’s rivers.
Plastic bags only break down into smaller plastics that get into water and soils and are consumed by animals in the food chain.