Denver Officials Considering Ban on Plastic Bags

plastic bags
Getty Images

Denver officials are researching the potential of a plastic bag ban in the city once the newly elected Democratic legislature clears the way.

While the Denver City Council has not formally introduced a bill yet, the comments come as a signal to the new Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Democrats maintained control of the governorship and House of Representatives in the November elections and flipped the Senate.

A decades-old law barred local governments from banning plastic products, a law some cities in Colorado have ignored. Aspen, Crested Butte and Telluride have laws on the books banning bags. Other major cities across the U.S., like Seattle, Portland and Boston, already have banned plastic bags.

"With a new class of legislators going in, there is a lot of hope this will be the year that law will go away," Denver City Council President Jolon Clark said, according to 9news.com.

Clark said he’s talked with Democratic leadership in the General Assembly and indicated the city council would not introduce a bill until the legislature repealed the law, according to Denverite.

"I think it could open a lot of doors that I am personally excited about," Clark said about the potential of the General Assembly clearing the way for municipalities to ban bags.

Denver City Council mulled a plastic bag fee in 2014, but the plan was scrapped to focus on trash pick-up services.

Denver Solid Waste Management operations manager Charlotte Pitt estimated that over 7,000 tons of plastic materials – including bags – were thrown out by Denverites in 2017.

Critics say bag bans often aren’t effective and that plastic bag fees are nothing more than taxes. If a law allowing cities to ban plastic bags is proposed, grocery stores and consumer groups would likely oppose the legislation, while environmentalist groups would be supportive. Legislation also could pave the way for cities to ban other items many argue are harmful to the environment, such as styrofoam, plastic straws and plastic utensils.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce said they do not yet have a position on a potential bag ban. The South Metro Chamber of Commerce last year opposed legislation that would have taxed plastic bags and used the revenues for affordable housing. The legislation, HB18-1054, was never advanced in the General Assembly.

Garret Garner-Wells, the director of Environment Colorado, told 9new.com that his environmental advocacy group would support any legislation that would allow municipalities to ban disposable plastic items.

"Every day, people are throwing away tons of single-use cups, containers and other plastic ‘stuff.' Among the worst forms of plastic pollution is polystyrene foam (the stuff most of us call Styrofoam), which never fully degrades," he said. "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute Colorado's land and water for hundreds of years. Environment Colorado supports giving cities and counties the tools they need to address their plastic problems."

No lawmakers have announced that they would sponsor legislation paving the way for Colorado cities to ban plastic bags.