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Colorado lawmakers consider regulating plastic straws

If a new state bill passes, Coloradans will have to ask restaurants for a plastic straw. The legislation would prohibit restaurants from automatically providing one.

DENVER — A plastic straw may no longer come standard with your beverages in Colorado. A new bill would stop restaurants from automatically providing one. Instead, anyone wanting one would have to ask for it. 

Rep. Susan Lontine (D-House District 1) introduced HB19-1145 to the State House on January 29. The legislation would prohibit a restaurant, food vendor, or other food services from providing a single-use plastic straw unless a customer specifically requests one. It’s similar to regulations California signed into law in September 2018.

The debate over plastic straws has been a conversation since 2015 when biologists found one inside a sea turtle’s nose. The video went viral.

Some Colorado restaurants are already following the ‘by request’ model.

“Restaurants leave a big carbon footprint. A lot of industries do,” Big Red F owner Dave Query said.

Big Red F Restaurant Group runs several restaurants in Boulder and Denver. None of them hand out plastic straws unless a customer asks for one.

“This planet is plastic producing people and it's our little tiny effort at helping reverse the flow,” Query explained.

The Colorado Restaurant Association asked Rep. Lontine to bring the bill forward, with the intent to present a moderately reasoned approach to the straw issue. They recognized problems with the full ban advocates have vouched for and cities like Seattle and Vancouver have in place.

“A concern with a straw ban is those who might not have the hand dexterity to drink out of a glass without a straw would either have to constantly bring a straw with them or they wouldn’t have access to one in event of a straw ban,” Nick Hoover, the Manager of Government Affairs for the Colorado Restaurant Association said.

He also stressed forcing restaurants to switch to eco-friendly paper or bamboo straws wouldn’t be feasible.

“’We wanted to make sure restaurants still have the ability to utilize the straws they are currently using,” Hoover explained. “There’s just simply not a supply chain for those products [bamboo or paper straws] to be used broadly across the state of Colorado.”

The Plastic Industry Association, the national trade association for the plastics industry’s entire supply chain, recognized the reasons for plastic straw regulations are legitimate. The group’s VP of Government Affairs agreed the ‘by request’ model is a rational one. They don’t want a full ban either.

“When you maintain an element of consumer choice, we can support that,” Scott Defife said.

Defife argued that plastic straws aren’t the only issue.

“Our waste management systems are not properly capturing the materials that are being used by consumers today,” Defife explained. “There’s so much more coming into the system than is being able to be taken back out of the system.”

The Plastics Industry Association plans to ask Congress to include an investment in waste management in the next infrastructure package.

Colorado’s new bill does have exceptions including self-serve straw dispensers or prepackaged food, drive-thru windows, and third-party delivery services.

The bill will go before the House Energy & Environment Committee on February 25.

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