The new disposable bag tax and the phasing out of single-use plastic bags next year will help protect Colorado’s environment and public health by slowing the worsening plastic pollution crisis. Learning more about the single-use plastic bag problem underscores the importance of this proven policy solution. Some of the problems with single use plastics include:
These problems will only get worse if we continue on the path we are on, but the Plastic Pollution Reduction Actpassed into law last summer, it addresses these problems by first reducing the amount of single-use plastic used.
We cannot recycle our way out of the problem
Only 9% of the plastic ever produced on earth has been recycled. The remaining plastic waste ends up in our oceans, waterways, parks and landfills. It is more complicated and expensive to recycle plastic than other materials, and most plastic products cannot be recycled. Plastic bags are absolutely not recyclable in curbside recycling programs; they are the most common contaminant in recycling plants, clog and damage machines and endanger workers.
When plastic bags are collected separately for recycling, they are recycled into other materials such as decking, which therefore cannot be recycled and must ultimately be landfilled. As long as we keep making plastic bags, we’ll keep extracting fossil fuels and pollute our environment.
Switching to “biodegradable” disposable bags is not a solution and only perpetuates our unsustainable resource extraction and disposal. The term “biodegradable” is an unofficial term used for marketing purposes; all plastic is ultimately “biodegradable,” meaning that over time with exposure to air, sunlight, and water, it will break down into smaller plastic pieces, contaminating our environment and entering our food streams . “Biodegradable” does NOT mean that plastic has been shown to decompose completely.
Even paper bags have a significant environmental impact; they use large amounts of water for production and require forests to be cleared if not made with 100% recycled content. The best alternative is reusable bags that can be used for years and years. Reusable bags are much stronger, can be insulated, and can hold more weight than disposable bags.
The solution to pollution
Fees and bans on single-use baggage have been enacted around the world and the data overwhelmingly demonstrates that this model of policy works. Steamboat Springs and Fort Collins saw an 85% reduction in paper and plastic bag use after passing plastic bag bans and paper bag tariffs in 2019 and 2021, respectively. With a paper bag tax, customers in cities like Aspen bring your own reusable bags or skip the single-use bags altogether.
In a large study of existing life cycle assessments, the United Nations recently concluded that all single-use products are the problem, regardless of their material. The study found that “more often than not, reusable products have a lower environmental impact than single-use products…the more times a product can be used, the lower that product’s environmental impact.” If the average American takes home 365 single-use plastic bags a yeareach person could save 20,000 or more bags in a lifetime if they switched to reusable bags.
Thankfully, the Colorado Legislature and Governor Jared Polis have taken action to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic waste across the state. The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act created a statewide baggage fee and will completely eliminate single-use plastic bags in 2024. existing bag inventory.
There’s no point in continuously pumping out fossil fuels to be turned into plastic bags that are used for a few minutes only to end up in landfills, clog recycling systems or crumble into microscopic pollutions. The Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, with its bag taxes and plastic bag ban, helps protect our beautiful state and the health of Coloradans and all those downstream from us.
Denver’s Ryan Call is the Denver Campaign Coordinator for Eco-Cycle Inc.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and columnists do not reflect the views of the editorial board. Read their ethics policy for more information on The Sun’s opinion policy and send columns, suggested writers, and more to [email protected].