Reducing Plastic Use and Pollution in Colorado

The ever-increasing production and disposal of plastics is fueling a global crisis affecting every ecosystem and species on Earth. While there is a lot we as individuals can do to reduce our consumption of plastics, the real problem with plastics doesn’t start with the individual consumer—it begins with the overwhelming production of plastic! To make large-scale, systemic change here in Colorado, Eco-Cycle is tackling the problem with policy solutions, including championing Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, and successfully advocating for Extended Producer Responsibility—where manufacturers are held accountable for the packaging they generate.

Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (2021), a Ban on Plastic Bags and Polystyrene Containers in 2024

Colorado is making huge strides in curbing plastic use with the landmark Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, championed by Eco-Cycle and partners, which will rein in the use of two of the most harmful plastics: plastic bags, and foam food and beverage containers. 

Phase 1: Charging $0.10 Per Plastic and Paper Bags

Did you know that a staggering 14 billion plastic bags are used in the US per year? To incentivize customers to opt for reusable bags, diminishing the use of plastic bags throughout the state, the first phase of the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act mandates that large retailers charge a minimum fee of $0.10 per plastic (and paper) checkout bag as of January 1, 2023—which could result in an astounding 70% reduction in bag usage annually.

Phase 2: Banning Plastic Bags and Polystyrene Food and Beverage Containers

On January 1, 2024, the second phase of the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act will roll out with a ban (not just a fee) on plastic bags and foam food and beverage containers at large retail establishments. Polystyrene foam (often mistakenly called Styrofoam®) is derived from fossil fuels and never biodegrades. Instead, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, posing a significant threat to wildlife that often mistakes it for food, and creating microplastics that can enter our ecosystem’s water, soil, and food supply. Polystyrene foam also jeopardizes human health: A key component of polystyrene, styrene has been identified by the Department of Health and Human Services as a potential human carcinogen. This chemical can leach into food and beverages served in polystyrene containers, posing a direct risk to human well-being. Even workers involved in the production of styrene-based products face serious consequences, as the inhalation of styrene can result in damage to the nervous system.

As the final phase of Colorado’s Plastic Pollution Reduction Act approaches on January 1, 2024, Coloradans are poised to reap the extraordinary environmental and health benefits of reducing plastic pollution generated by plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers. 

Colorado’s Producer Responsibility for Recycling Program: Free, Convenient Recycling for All Coloradans in 2026

Colorado became the first state in the country to create a fully producer-funded and operated statewide recycling system for all consumer-facing packaging and printed paper with the passage of the Producer Responsibility for Recycling Act in June 2022. The bill was authored by Eco-Cycle and championed by a broad coalition of businesses, local governments, environmental advocates, and residents.

Shifting Responsibility (and Cost) from the Consumer to the Producer

Currently, consumers and local governments are tasked with the responsibility of paying for the recycling of packaging on consumer goods. When the Producer Responsibility Organization starts implementing their plan to provide free recycling for all Coloradans beginning in 2026, the responsibility for recycling packaging will shift from the consumer or local government to the producers that make that packaging. Under the new law, companies that sell printed paper, cardboard, and metal, glass, and plastic packaging in the state will be required to pay a small fee per piece of packaging they put out in the market; these fees will be used to create and fund a statewide recycling system. The goal is for every Coloradan to have access to free, convenient recycling that is just as easy as their trash service. 

Taking a Step Toward a More Circular Economy in Colorado

Colorado currently recycles just 15% of its waste, less than half the national average, largely because many residents lack access to convenient, affordable curbside recycling services. Meanwhile, Colorado landfills recyclable material that could have been sold for more than $100 million. This policy will make it easy for all Coloradans to recycle more plastics, aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, and printed paper. It will also help manufacturers and businesses by creating a more resilient domestic supply of recycled materials to make new products.

The Producer Responsibility Act will help ensure that producers take responsibility for the environmental impact of their goods. Through this legislation, Colorado is taking a significant step toward a circular economy, where waste is minimized, resources are conserved, and the well-being of both residents and the environment are prioritized.