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Denver's New Environmental Restaurant Law Isn't Enough Says Expert

Posted by 
Kelly E.
Kelly E.

Restaurants will now ask customers before giving out single-use items
Brunch at Root Down in DenverRoot Down, Facebook page

The Denver City Council passed a new law on Monday night to ensure restaurants and other business ask customers if they want single-use utensils and packaging. Previously, these have been automatically included with our orders in most places.

The new law is part of the city's Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency plan to reduce waste in Denver and be more environmentally conscious.

Jerry Tinianow, a sustainability consultant and Denver's former chief sustainability officer, hopes this new law will help steer Denver away from relying on unrecylable plastics and one use items.

“It gets people thinking, helps all of us be a little more mindful,” Tinianow said.

A warning not to stop there

It's good to see the Denver Council paying attention to sustainability, but environmental engineer Shelie Miller says reducing single-use items is a start, but it shouldn't distract from environmental actions that would make a much bigger impact.

"Consumers tend to focus on the impact of the packaging, rather than the impact of the product itself," said Miller.

In her paper, "Five misperceptions surrounding the environmental impacts of single-use plastic," Miller says we often believe the packaging makes the largest impact on the environment. While she doesn't want to downplay efforts to recycle and reduce waste--we all need to be doing that too--she doesn't want it to be a distraction either.

The truth is, she says, the product inside generally makes more of an impact on the environment than the spoon used to eat it.

We also believe reusable products are better, but Miller says this is only true if we use it enough times. The reusable products took materials and energy to make too. So we need to use them enough times to offset that.

"We need to take a much more holistic view that considers larger environmental issues," Miller says.

Consumers and law makers need to educate ourselves on the environmental impact of each stage of our products.

  1. The original resource and how it's made, grown, or extracted.
  2. The manufactoring stage and what impact that has.
  3. And then how we use and dispose of the product.

"The resource extraction, manufacturing and use phases generally dominate the environmental impacts of most products," says Miller.

Two Denver restaurants on the right path

1) Mercury Cafe

One cafe in Denver, is already working hard to keep sustainability, at all stages of their products, in mind.

Mercury Cafe is an arty escape in California Street, with a menu of organic, locally sourced food. They also ensure the minimal imported goods they use are fair trade.

"We treasure our local farmers, ranchers, vintners and distilleries."--Mercury Cafe
Mercury Cafe, DenverMercury Cafe website

2) Root Down

Another popular spot in Denver is also on track for their overall sustainable practices. Open for brunch and dinner, Root Down is known for fresh food and innovative thinking.

Root Down restaurant is 100% wind-powered, composts their waste, and selects responsibly-sourced, vegetable-forward menus. To lessen the impact of their food supply even further they source over 50% of their ingredients from within Colorado.

One of their suppliers, Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, provides the restaurant with a healthy protein source that require less land, water, feed and energy than traditional sources--bugs!

"The Butterfly Pavilion maintains a beehive in our downtown, EB garden. We’re doing our part to give bees a chance"--Root Down

The also get some of their herbs and vegetables from their own 6,000 sf organic garden.