Doing Your Part: Plastics Ban 2.0

Coloradans can support rebooted anti-plastics legislation at the Capitol.

In 2019, Denver City Council approved a 10-cent fee for single-use plastic bags that was set to begin in July 2020. Implementation was delayed by the pandemic. But that lag was not the only blow to local sustainability efforts in 2020: Three state bills that targeted plastics failed to become law.

Fortunately, 2021 is a new year—and a new chance to regulate the (mostly) nonrecyclable, nonbiodegradable materials. At press time, Representatives Alex Valdez and Lisa Cutter and Senator Julie Gonzales were planning to introduce a bill in early March combining the best parts of 2020’s bills. This new bill would allow local governments to ban certain plastics plus prohibit food establishments from using Styrofoam containers for takeout and restrict restaurants from providing some single-use plastics. “We haven’t attacked solid pollution,” Valdez says. “It’s time.”

Not everyone agrees. Some business owners say the changes will be costly. Some lawmakers are concerned about government intrusion into business. Big-box grocers are nervous about a patchwork of regulations among municipalities, which they say could make compliance difficult. That is why, Valdez says, two things are critical. One, legislation must take businesses into account. And two, citizens need to get involved. “Our process of creating laws is public,” he says. “Come to the Capitol and testify.” Or, he adds, call or email legislators directly.

Doing Their Part: The Sustainable Living Association’s Leadership Program

Photo courtesy of Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez had a problem. As an environmental engineer on HP’s Fort Collins sustainability team, he was responsible for evaluating the eco-friendliness of the company’s packaging components—and nonbiodegradable polystyrene (read: Styrofoam) had become material non grata. “Customers hated it, regulators had begun targeting it, our competitors were abandoning it,” Sanchez (pictured) says, “but it’s a cheap, lightweight, good-at-its-job material for shipping everything from monitors to printers.” The 28-year-old wasn’t sure he could persuade the 55,000-person company to ditch the foam. That is, until he signed on for the Sustainable Living Association’s (SLA) Leadership Program in 2018.

An eight-month, $950 commitment, the online training meets once a week for 90 minutes. “Companies are hearing from their clients that they want to see sustainability as a core tenet of businesses,” says SLA founder Kellie Falbo. “We bring in sustainability-focused organizations—like Patagonia and Ducks Unlimited—to present to our participants to inspire them.” But inspiration isn’t the only goal of the program. In addition to giving attendees a broad education in things like renewable energy production, waste reduction, and water conservation, SLA wants them to understand the so-called triple bottom line, an economic theory that holds that companies should focus not on one bottom line but on three: profit, people, and the planet. “Getting exposure to the idea of the triple bottom line was really important,” Sanchez says. “It helped to understand that the feel-good parts of sustainability also have business implications.”

Sanchez must have been an A-plus student, because upon completion of the course he helped shift HP’s packaging strategy to meet a goal of 75 percent reduction in single-use plastics by 2025. “It took time and lots of conversations, but it was a big achievement,” Sanchez says, “and it’s helped me move my career with HP beyond packaging. I’m now moving toward a job in the built environment realm, helping our buildings in more than 170 countries be more sustainable. Part of the reason I could do that was having completed the SLA program.”