Kendra Black wants to ban Styrofoam in Denver

It would be difficult and it’s all up to people who don’t run Denver.

Polystyrene! (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Polystyrene! (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

Denver City Councilwoman Kendra Black is floating legislation that would ban cups and food containers made from expanded polystyrene foam, better known by the brand name Styrofoam, at restaurants citywide. The proposal, which is nothing more than an idea at this point, has a path to success reminiscent of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.

The state legislature could play hero or foil in Black’s plan, which, like the bag fee she successfully ushered through council, is meant to reduce pollution and chip away at global warming.

Adventure No. 1: Colorado lawmakers pass House Bill 1162, which bans the stuff statewide. Black’s potential bill would be unnecessary. 

Adventure No. 2: Lawmakers pass House Bill 1163, which would ban polystyrene and any other single-use items plastics like straws, utensils and carry-out bags. Black’s bill would become moot.

Adventure No. 3: Both attempts fail at the legislature, which is good news for Sonic.

Denver’s government attorneys say any city-sponsored polystyrene ban would be dead in the water — at least right now — because state legislators killed a bill that would’ve let cities and towns decide on these kinds of thing for themselves.

“Denver is unique, and we should be able to manage our waste at the local level,” Black said. “What is good for Denver is not (necessarily) good for other cities. We should not have to do the same thing that Alamosa does and Alamosa shouldn’t have to do what we do.”

But.

Black says she has it on good authority that some lawmakers may reintroduce the local control bill later this session. If it passes, her dream of foam-free restaurants would have a chance.

The Colorado Restaurant Association hasn’t taken a side on a potential statewide ban.

A spokeswoman for the industry group said she wouldn’t comment on a Denver ban because no bill exists yet. But the group is still on the fence when it comes to the statewide effort to ban Styrofoam and its kind. Nick Hoover, government affairs manager for the association, isn’t sure restaurants would be able to comply by the 2022 deadline laid out in 1162.

“Our major consideration is the timeline and whether our members can find a suitable alternative to polystyrene by the bill’s phase-out date,” Hoover said.

CRA doesn’t keep track of how many restaurants use the material, which primarily comes in the form of to-go boxes or cups, but most restaurants are already phasing it out, he told Denverite. The group is in the process of reaching out to mom-and-pop shops, he said, to understand whether the 2022 timeline is realistic. Larger restaurant chains tend not to use polystyrene and have an easier time sourcing goods, a spokesperson for the association said.

If any sort of ban is successful, at least one mom-and-pop spot, the famously aromatic Bourbon Grill on Colfax Avenue, would have to raise prices to make up for the higher cost of more environmentally friendly containers, said Tom Lieber, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Lien Vo.

“It would cost us more money, maybe twice as much,” Lieber said. “The price of the meals would go up.”

Black will introduce a bill if it jibes with what’s going on at the Capitol, she said. Whether it sees the light of day will depend on the varied adventurous paths before us!

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