Colorado legislature considers regulating plastic straws

Posted at 3:16 PM, Feb 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-07 12:14:31-05

DENVER -- A bill being considered by the Colorado legislature could change the way plastic straws are used in restaurants and businesses in the state.

House Bill 19-1143 would prohibit establishments from handing out straws with drinks unless the customer specifically requests one.

The proposal comes as part of a nationwide trend of businesses and municipalities moving away from straws. The move comes in the aftermath of a 2015 viral video showing biologists removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nose.

Major companies like Starbucks, Disney, Hyatt and Marriott all pledged that they would start to phase out plastic straws from their businesses.

Then this past July, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws altogether. Then in January, a California law went into effect that is similar to the proposal currently being considered in Colorado.

House Bill 19-1143 allows for three exceptions for plastic straws. It would not regulate the use of self-server straw dispensers. The bill also allows for businesses to give out straws without being prompted by the customer in drive-thrus or delivery. Prepackaged food that comes with a straw like juice boxes also wouldn’t be regulated.

The bill would also prohibit local governments from attempting to regulate plastic straws as well.

But while state lawmakers debate the merits of the bill, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar has taken things one step further. Not only did the restaurants completely remove plastic straws from their inventory and add paper straws, the group also made those paper straws by request only.

“It’s one of the top 10 polluters to our waterways, these plastic straws,” said Adam Reed, the Director of Operations for the restaurants. “Once they go in, they can never come out. They break down, they can be digested by the seafood themselves.”

Reed believes that plastic contamination could affect the quality of food that is served in Jax and other seafood restaurants around the world if something isn’t done to protect waterways.

“It’s one of those full circle things and so it’s preservation of waterways, preservation of the ocean ecosystem, as well as the waterways here in Colorado,” he said.

The restaurant chain has been a partner with the Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch for nearly 12 years. It’s also focused on sustainable seafood for 25 years.

At first, Reed says the restaurant got a lot of questions about the new straws. He sees it as an opportunity to educate customers about the issue.

Jax restaurants now feature two types of paper straws, ones for drinks and one for cocktails. Reed says it took some time for the group to find the right paper straws since some are not compostable and others have a history of getting soggy before a person finishes their drink.

By buying the paper straws in bulk, Reed says the price was nearly the same as what the restaurants used to spend on plastic straws. Even if the straws were more expensive though, he says the restaurant would have still gone through with the inventory switch, comparing it to the seafood his locations provide.

“Sustainable fish we use has a higher price point, it costs us to work at maybe smaller margins but it’s just the way we choose to do business,” Reed said.

He hopes other businesses would consider a similar move even if the Colorado legislation isn’t passed.

“Really for any business, thinking about your outputs and things you use is crucial because there is a financial aspect of that but there is also is the ecological aspect,” he said.

House Bill 19-1143 has bipartisan co-sponsors. It will be debated by the House Energy and Environment committee Monday, February 25 in the afternoon.