Senate fails to pass bill to eliminate polystyrene to-go food containers

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SB243 not called up for a Senate floor vote before session ends May 3rd


The Colorado Senate failed to pass SB19-243 before the Colorado legislative session ended on Friday, May 3rd at midnight. Despite garnering over 23,000 public comments in support from Coloradans across the state and having minimal opposition, SB19-243 was not called up for debate or a vote. SB19-243 would have eliminated the use of to-go food containers made of polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. 

The bill was sponsored by Senators Dominick Moreno and Mike Foote, and Representatives Jonathan Singer and Lisa Cutter. 

“It’s frustrating to know how close we came and to not get called up for a vote,” said Danny Katz, director of the consumer advocacy group CoPIRG. “Nothing we use once to transport a drink or food should be allowed to pollute our state for hundreds of years. Every year we wait to eliminate this particularly unnecessary and harmful form of plastic pollution, means hundreds of thousands more plastic foam cups and containers are created, used, thrown away, and then pollute our world for centuries.”  

Polystyrene is a particularly harmful form of plastic pollution. It is lightweight so it can float down rivers or get blown hundreds of miles through the air. It breaks into smaller pieces, called microplastics, which absorb toxic pollution in the environment and are ingested by wildlife including fish, reptiles, mammals, birds and earthworms. Ultimately, polystyrene takes 500 or more years to completely break down in the environment, polluting Colorado for centuries. 

Plastic pollution litters our communities, undermines recycling efforts, pollutes our waterways, harms wildlife, and endangers our health, and polystyrene foam cups and plates are a major contributor. Based on national numbers, Coloradans toss an estimated 1 million foam cups away every day. 

Polystyrene is also extremely difficult to recycle. It is missed by manual sorters and contaminates other parts of the waste stream harming and driving up the cost of other recycling efforts. An in-depth analysis by the New York City Department of Sanitation found post-consumer food-service foam cannot be recycled in a manner that is economically feasible or environmentally effective for New York City. 

Numerous communities and companies have phased out polystyrene cups and containers including 119 cities in California, New York City, Montgomery County, MD. Major companies like McDonalds have also taken action and a representative from McDonalds testified in favor of SB19-243. The states of Maryland and Maine have passed similar statewide polystyrene bans this year that will go into effect in 2020. 

In places where polystyrene has been eliminated, it has had a real impact. From 2008 to 2012, after the California cities of Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove banned polystyrene foam food ware, polystyrene litter on local beaches decreased by as much as 71 percent. 

“Coloradans should not have to accept that the cost of taking a smoothie to go or ordering food to our home means we have to use a container that will last past the year 2519 – littering our communities, polluting our waterways, harming our wildlife and health, and driving up the cost of our recycling efforts. Centuries of negative impacts is not worth it. We do not need it. We will be back in 2020,” said Katz.