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  • Writer's pictureNanushka Santiago

Diving Into Colorado's Polystyrene and Plastic Bag Ban in the Food Service Sector

In an era where environmental sustainability transcends trends to become a necessity, Colorado is leading the charge with innovative legislation aimed at curtailing plastic pollution. The state's ban on plastic bags and expanded polystyrene foam (often referred to as Styrofoam®) marks a significant shift that will notably affect the food service industry. This article provides essential insights to help your business adapt smoothly to these changes.

Understanding the Legislation

The Colorado Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (PPRA), brought into effect by House Bill 21-1162, introduces phased restrictions designed to tackle plastic waste. Starting January 1, 2023, "Large Stores" are required to impose a $0.10 fee for each paper and plastic carryout bag. The legislation's second phase, commencing on January 1, 2024, enforces more stringent measures, including

1. Ban on Plastic Checkout Bags: Prohibiting major retailers in Colorado from distributing plastic checkout bags.

2. Mandatory Paper Bag Fee: Instituting a minimum fee of $0.10 for each paper checkout bag at large retail outlets.

3. Prohibition of Polystyrene Food Containers: Mandating all retail food establishments to discontinue the use of polystyrene foam containers for food and beverages, including restaurants, fast food outlets, cafeterias, schools, and prisons.

Businesses are permitted to utilize their existing stock of polystyrene containers until depletion but are advised against restocking after January 1, 2024.

Exemptions and Future Regulations

Although the legislation aims for broad-based changes, exemptions exist, especially for small businesses operating with three or fewer locations in the state. 

- Colorado's 2024 Polystyrene Ban: Detailed insights on navigating the polystyrene food containers and cups ban.

- Colorado's 2024 Plastic Bag Ban: A one-pager of the exemption chart for the plastic bag ban.

By July 2024, local governments may impose extra rules on plastic usage, in addition to the exemptions already in place.

Infographic of Colorado's Plastic Bag and Polysterene Ban as a timeline

Preparing Your Business

To align with these upcoming regulations while minimizing operational disruptions, consider these actionable steps:

1. Assess Your Current Usage: Evaluate your dependency on plastic bags and polystyrene containers, and start exploring compliant alternatives.

2. Educate Your Staff and Customers: Promote awareness about the regulatory changes and their environmental significance to ensure a seamless transition.

3. Explore Sustainable Alternatives: Commit to eco-friendly substitutes for plastic bags and polystyrene containers, such as paper bags, compostable containers, and reusable serviceware.

A guide to Sustainable Serviceware for Restaurants and Food Prep Businesses by EcoCycle

For an in-depth understanding and further guidance on transitioning from plastics while optimizing cost savings, consult the "Eco-Cycle Guide to Sustainable Serviceware”.

It can be accessed online and downloaded for free in both English and Spanish languages.

Spearheading Sustainability

Colorado's sustainable regulations in the food service industry is a positive step forward toward environmental stewardship, cost-saving efforts, and adequate waste management. By embracing these regulations, businesses are setting an example for other industries to follow, potentially extending its impact beyond the food service sector.

Additional Resources

For further reading and resources, explore:

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