Mar 12, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Alanna Jackson | Illustration by Bibi Powers

Tap tap ta-tappity tap tap! “Happy Feet” was one of my favorite movies as a kid. From the absolutely transcendent tap numbers to dramatic love stories weaved within the pop music melodies, the movie always made me want to dance. A dedicated tap dancer back in the day, I remember trying to practice the tap steps on my bedroom wall at night … much to the dismay of my mom.

Surprisingly, “Happy Feet” also subtly comments on environmental issues from overfishing and pollution to climate change — and single-use plastics. The main character, Mumble, has a penguin pal who sports a trendy (?) plastic six-pack rings necklace throughout the movie.

However, single-use plastics, regardless of how fashionable the penguins in “Happy Feet” thought they were, have been cited as a major detriment to the environment. Single-use plastics take the form of plastic utensils, shopping bags, coffee cup lids, water bottles, take-out containers, straws, and food packaging – such as plastic six-pack rings.

According to an article featured in the UN Chronicle by activist, author, and founder of Plastic Patrol, Lizzie Carr, 91% of all plastic is single-use. This vastly contributes to the accumulation of 8.3 billion tons of plastic that ends up in places like landfills, oceans, rivers, and animal habitats.

Instead of biodegrading, plastic continuously breaks into microscopic, itsy-bitsy pieces called microplastics, which contaminate water, soil, and natural environments. Animals ingest microplastics, leading to a variety of health conditions, and those ingested toxins eventually surface in the human food chain as well. On the state level, Coloradans use 4.6 million single-use plastic bags and 1.2 million plastic cups per day.

So what’s being done about this issue at the state level?

Originally co-sponsored by State Representative Alex Valdez, State Representative Emily Sirota, and State Senator Julie Gonzales, HB20-1163 was reintroduced in the 2021 season by Representative Valdez and Representative Lisa Cutter after the bill’s hiatus following its rejection during the 2020 legislative session. This bill has two main goals:

  1. To drastically reduce plastic pollution through creating and enforcing precise datelines for the elimination of single-use plastics in restaurants and in retail stores, and
  2. To give more power to local governments to continue to cut plastic waste, which is big news because currently there is a state statute restricting local governments from creating these kinds of policies.

More specifically, the bill would prevent restaurants and stores from providing single-use bags and stirrers. It would limit the distribution of plastic straws to specific customer requests. To discourage merely replacing plastic bags with paper bags, customers would be charged 10 cents per paper bag used at stores.

Lastly, the bill restricts local governments from enacting less strict single-use plastic laws to safeguard against the undoing of the bill on the local level. This means that no local government can do less than the state standard.

A few of these measures are subject to change as the bill moves through the General Assembly in order to garner more support from those who are on the fence. Specifically, there has been discussion about whether to eliminate the measures that eliminate plastic straws and plastic stirrers at restaurants.

Another challenge to the bill is enforcement. Representative Cutter stated, “Our goal is to change behavior … not be punitive,” showing that one of the bill’s main struggles is finding a way to transform attitudes while upholding accountability.

The bill has been met positively by many businesses across Colorado and many are already in the process of phasing out single-use plastics, including Vail Resorts (now that’s pretty steezy)! Eco-friendly organizations, such as Eco-cycle, CoPIRG Foundation, Recycle Colorado, and Environment Colorado, are all rallying behind the bill in strong support.

While portions of the bill promise to be hotly contested in the Colorado legislature, if it passes, Colorado will join eight other states that have already banned single-use plastic. Yet, the introduction of this bill is something to be excited about. You might even want to do a little penguin happy dance because it seems as though politicians are finally listening, learning, and leading.

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