If you go

What: Community feedback on Boulder's Zero Waste Strategic Plan

When: 4 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Boulder Farmers Market, 1300 Canyon Blvd.

More info: Participants will be entered into a drawing to win $50 in Farmers Market bucks. People can also give feedback at InspireBoulder.com. For more information on zero-waste programs, go to ZeroWasteBoulder.com.

If you go

What: Boulder City Council study session

When: 6 p.m. July 29

Where: Boulder Municipal Building, 1777 Broadway

More info: There is no public comment at study sessions, but the meetings are open to the public.

Zero-waste recommendations:

Mandatory trash service subscription for all owner-occupied homes

Every-other-week trash collection, combined with weekly compost pickup. Now, Western Disposal provides trash pickup every week and compost and recycling on alternating weeks.

Mandatory single-stream recycling for businesses with more than 10 employees

Mandatory commercial composting for food-service establishments, including supermarkets and restaurants

Construction and demolition debris deposit program

Source: Kessler Consulting Inc., LBA Associates

Boulder should require businesses to recycle — and food-related businesses to compost — if it wants to meet its zero-waste goals, a consultant's report said.

The city should also consider requiring all homeowners to subscribe to trash service, the report from Kessler Consulting and LBA Associates said. Roughly 10,000 homes in Boulder do not have any trash service. Some of those people haul their own waste, but city officials and business organizations suspect many of them put their trash in others' carts and dumpsters.

City officials have not yet endorsed the recommendations, but Jamie Harkins, of the Local Environmental Action Division, said Boulder will struggle to reach its goal of diverting 85 to 90 percent of its waste from landfills if new requirements are not adopted.

The city is in the process of updating its Zero Waste Strategic Plan. Officials are seeking ideas and comments from the public online and at the Farmers Market on Wednesday. The Boulder City Council will hold a study session on the issue July 29.

"Everyone recognizes that we have to make headway on the commercial sector," Harkins said. "The diversion rate has stayed stable, but it's a larger and larger share of the waste stream."

Boulder's current zero-waste plan, adopted in 2006, calls for 70 percent diversion by the end of 2012 and 85 percent by 2017.

As it stands, Boulder increased its waste diversion from 30 percent in 2004 to 39 percent in 2012. (In 2010, it reached 46 percent, but the community didn't maintain that level.)

Single-family homes do the most recycling and composting. Almost 60 percent of their waste is diverted from the landfill.

Businesses diverted 28 percent of their waste in 2013, and apartments and condos diverted 21 percent.

Angelique Espinoza, public affairs director for the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was surprised the diversion rate was so low and has asked Western Disposal for additional information.

The chamber is broadly supportive of the goal of increasing recycling, she said. However, the chamber hopes the city considers incentives before moving on a punitive approach.

"Any step forward on recycling regulations must place an emphasis on assisting with compliance versus a punitive approach, provide a roadmap with clarity about who it impacts and how and clearly identify obstacles to achieving greater commercial diversion rates, including in multi-family housing," the chamber's official position says.

Boulder already offers several incentives for business recycling, Harkins said. There is an advising service, and the city will pay for the first three months of recycling for a business and reimburse up to $250 of start-up costs for bins and other expenses. However, participation remains low.

One problem is space. Businesses with alley trash service may not have room for additional bins and dumpsters. Another is the "split incentive" between landlords and tenants. Owners of strip malls often pay for the trash contract and don't want the extra expense of recycling, even if their tenants do.

Frank Bruno, CEO of Western Disposal, the city's primary trash hauler, said many large companies already recycle, but the small businesses that make up most of the commercial sector find it more challenging. Based on conversations with clients and from a survey conducted last year, many businesses don't want to put the time and effort into educating employees or tenants about recycling requirements and are confused about changing recycling requirements, he said. Others worry about the cost.

"Some of the barriers are real," Bruno said. "Others are perceived. There may be things we can do to ease them into it."

Commercial resistance to composting is even higher, Bruno said, with businesses worried about contamination and odor.

Bruno said he hopes the city moves carefully on another recommendation from the consultant: moving to every-other-week trash pickup combined with compost pickup every week.

Many people in the field believe compost participation is low, even in the residential sector, because people don't want organic waste sitting around for two weeks at a time. Offering compost every week would get them to compost more and put less material in the trash.

But Bruno said he thinks it is more complicated than that. In his own home, he's careful to compost everything he can, and he still doesn't fill a 32-gallon bin every two weeks. Customers report a strong desire to get trash out of their house every week, so removing every-week trash service might cause people to put inappropriate materials in the compost.

Marti Matsch, a spokeswoman for Eco-Cycle, said other communities have seen significant increases in diversion with every-other-week trash pickup.

"When compost is offered weekly, people are a lot more likely to participate," she said.

Matsch said composting is particularly important to greenhouse gas reductions because organic material, including paper, gives off methane in landfills, and composting does more than any other initiative to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

In a memo to the Environmental Advisory Board earlier this year, city officials described efforts that have "laid the groundwork" for reaching zero-waste goals, including the development of "Recycle Row" on East Arapahoe. Eco-Cycle's Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials, ReSource's used building materials yard, the Boulder County Recycling Center, the Boulder County Hazardous Materials Management Facility, Western Disposal's compost processing site and the city's yard waste disposal site all sit within a mile of one another.

If commercial recycling is required, Harkins said, the city could reach its goals within eight years. If it is not mandatory, it could take much longer.

Matsch said many of those facilities will need to be expanded and upgraded to handle a larger volume of diverted waste as the city moves toward its goals.

While largely supportive of the consultant report, Matsch said there is one area where Eco-Cycle strongly disagrees. The consultants recommend using less trash tax money on education efforts and more on developing recycling and composting programs directly.

"Our programs within the schools are one of our most successful ways of promoting zero-waste as a way of life," she said. "Those children become the ambassadors in their homes and later, as they grow up, in their workplaces. As a community, we have really taken on zero-waste as a value. Just building infrastructure isn't enough. You need to provide the education so they will use the infrastructure."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or meltzere@dailycamera.com.