reusable food containers

An OZZI machine allows users to take and return reusable food containers. (Courtesy photo)

The Colorado Senate supported House Bill 1162, which would ban certain single-use plastics and polystyrene food containers, with a 20-14 vote Wednesday.

The approval didn’t come without amendments, as several changes have been made since it was introduced to the Senate May 10. The biggest adjustment is in regards to the idea of pre-emption, which as initially proposed, would prohibit local governments from choosing whether or not ban such plastics.

The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee amended the bill to exclude pre-emption and extended the implementation date to 2024.

The bill will now go back to the House, which previously approved the measure May 5 with a 40-23 vote.

But the news of the Senate’s approval was celebrated during the Telluride Ecology Commission virtual meeting Wednesday afternoon, as several local officials have worked in support of the bill for nearly four years.

“Wow, three-and-a-half years worth of work and it started with just a comment, ‘Can we do something about straws?’ And it wasn’t just us, it was the whole state that was looking to do something, and we did,” said commission member Jonathan Greenspan, who also serves on the Mountain Village Green Team Committee and works with the local nonprofit Waste Energy Citizen Action Network, or W.E.C.A.N.

He added that he was in “total disbelief” as he watched the Senate’s decision live.

Similarly, Telluride Mayor DeLanie Young has been a proponent of the bill since the beginning and shared her enthusiasm about the most recent progression.

“I was definitely cheering and the landscapers down the street thought I was some nutso on the porch because I was listening to it outside,” she said.

While not quite to the finish line yet, Greenspan explained it’s closer than ever.

“Maybe after (Gov. Jared) Polis signs it we need to actually meet in person and have a round of margaritas or non-alcoholic drinks because some of you have worked so hard for four years,” commission member Kathy Green said.

Greenspan also shared news of his plans to apply for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant of up to $40,000, with the intention to purchase reusable takeout container collection kiosks for the area.

“It’s the very first EPA grant for something that is landfill-diversion based,” he explained. “They’re all pretty excited about it. This qualifies for it. I just got the ruling (Wednesday) that equipment is qualifiable for this grant.”

The kiosks are part of a pilot program that would offer reusable containers to people and restaurants in an effort to reduce waste. Greenspan compared it to checking out a book at the library, though a small deposit fee would be required and refunded after the container is returned.

The containers, which are good for up to 1,000 uses, would be re-sanitized whenever returned, as the Madeline Hotel has tentatively agreed to clean them, Greenspan said. Once the containers reach their usable shelf life, they’ll be sent back to the manufacturer, which in turn recycles them in making new ones.

“It’s a complete closed-circle system,” Greenspan said.

The pilot program, which may run through the summer, would be funded by W.E.C.A.N., he added, but if it is successful, a more permanent funding source will be necessary.

“If the community does like this, it’s just like bringing your own bag to the grocery store, then we’ll definitely have to figure out a funding source,” he said.

Placement of the kiosks was briefly discussed, with suggestions to have them spread around Telluride, including potentially at the courthouse, Elks Park and markets.

“The idea is if you have more of these stations throughout the town it just makes it really easy for people to use this system,” Greenspan said.

It was explained that the ecology commission doesn’t have sole authority to decide on placement in all those areas, and other commissions and boards, as well as town council, may have to discuss and approve certain spots.

Mountain Village is also interested in participating, Greenspan added. People he’s been working with include a group of Telluride restaurant owners, the Mountain Village Green Team, the directors of the area’s farmers markets, Wilkinson Public Library and San Miguel County Department of Public Health.

“If this pilot works, and I’m going to be looking for help on this because we’ll be sitting at the markets looking for people to sign up for it, then we’ll start inviting restaurants in,” Greenspan said.

The commission was generally in support of the grant and pilot program, though couldn’t provide a formal letter given the grant’s June 20 deadline.