Eagle County prepares for new statewide bans on polystyrene, plastic bags in 2024

Phase two of the Colorado Plastic Pollution Reduction Act will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024

The Colorado Plastic Pollution Reduction Act takes effect Jan. 1, and will ban all plastic bags across the state.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

On Jan. 1, 2024, new materials bans will go into effect across Eagle County and Colorado as the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act enters its second phase.

The first phase, which started in 2023, implemented bag fees for plastic and paper bags at retailers. Starting in the new year, statewide enforcement will begin for bans on plastic carryout bags and polystyrene (or Styrofoam) to-go containers and cups for ready-to-eat food.

While the bans are statewide, there are still some variances across Eagle County as some local municipalities have bans and fees that differ from and predate the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.

Plastic bag ban

The plastic bag ban applies to all grocery stores and retailers but still excludes restaurants. Stores will be able to use up their remaining stock of plastic bags until June 1, 2024, as long as they were purchased by Jan. 1, 2024. As the act’s second phase rolls out, the bag fees will still apply to the remaining plastic bag stock as well as to paper bags.

Per the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, the state required a minimum bag fee of 10 cents per bag, recommending that 40% of the fee go to the retailer and 60% to the municipality. Eagle County as well as the towns of Eagle and Gypsum adopted this 10-cent per bag fee and split, aligning it with the PPRA’s requirements on Jan. 1, 2023.  

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Per state requirements, municipalities are required to use the money from these fees for administration and enforcement costs relating to the law as well as to fund recycling, composting, waste diversion and educational programs within their jurisdictions.

While the town of Avon also has a 10-cent per bag fee, the fee has only applied to paper bags since 2018 when the town banned plastic bags at retailers and implemented the fee. So, when the state rolled out the PPRA, the town continued its practice of banning paper bags and charging a fee for paper bags. As such, the 2024 statewide plastic bag ban will not impact the town’s retailers as they’re already in compliance.   

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Avon also remits its fees slightly differently. Stores containing at least 4,000 square feet of retail space must remit all of the fees to the town, while retailers operating in less than 4,000 square feet of retail space may retain 100% of the fees. 

Similarly, the town of Vail banned plastic bags at its two major grocery stores — City Market and Safeway — in 2015. At the same time, the town implemented a 10-cent per bag fee for all carryout paper bags.

However, in 2023 with the start of the PPRA, the town increased its bag fee to 25 cents and expanded it to all retailers, with 15 cents going to the retailer and 10 cents going to the town.

In 2024, the main change for Vail is that the town’s plastic bag ban will extend beyond the grocery stores and to all other retailers in Vail.

Polystyrene Ban

The second part of the act’s 2024 phase is a ban on polystyrene food containers and cups. This will apply to all restaurants, fast food establishments, grocery stores, convenience stores and cafeterias in schools and businesses. Retailers will be allowed to use up any polystyrene containers that were purchased prior to Jan. 1, 2024, until they are completely gone.

“Polystyrene foam is a common pollutant that fragments into small, non-biodegradable pieces that are difficult to clean up and are ingested by aquatic life and other wildlife,” according to the town of Avon’s Aug. 21 ordinance on managing plastic products.

The ordinance also states “there is no economically feasible means of recycling polystyrene foam locally.”

In 2021, as the ban was making its way to the governor’s desk, Melissa Kirr, the senior sustainability director for Walking Mountains Science Center, told the Vail Daily that Styrofoam — a trademarked form of polystyrene foam — takes more than 1 million years to breakdown in a landfill. Kirr also said Styrofoam — alongside plastic bags — was one of the biggest contaminants in the county’s recycling stream.

State exceptions to this ban include farmers and roadside markets and stores whose primary sales revenue does not come from food products.

This will be a new ban for Eagle County municipalities, although the town of Vail already already prohibits the use of expanded polystyrene at its special events, including its farmers’ markets.

The town of Avon tried to implement a ban on polystyrene takeout containers in 2020 but was thwarted by a state law that prohibited local governments from banning specific kinds of materials.

Eco-Cycle, a Boulder-based zero-waste focused nonprofit, created a guide to sustainable serviceware for restaurants, which provides alternative options to polystyrene for dry and solid foods, wet and most foods, beverages and other accessories.

Alternative materials are ranked from best to worst, with “worst” being those that will go to the landfill or that are banned. On the “best” side, options include reusable materials as the top choice, followed by recyclables like aluminum and recyclable plastics, then compostable serviceware and uncoated papers.

Preparing for the third phase

The act’s third phase will also go into effect on July 1, 2024, lifting the local government pre-emption on plastic bans. This will allow municipalities and counties to enact, implement and enforce more stringent laws, beyond what’s included in the PPRA.

With this, local governments would be able to enact and enforce their own laws prohibiting, restricting or mandating the use or sale of plastic materials, containers, packaging or labeling. This could include single-use plastics like cutlery and more. The only exception to this would be packaging for medical products such as drugs, medical devices or dietary supplements.  

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