Last year, according to the third annual State of Recycling in Colorado, released by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group on Tuesday, Colorado continues to be one of the worst states at recycling and one of the most wasteful states in the country.
Despite diverting an additional 75,000 tons of waste from the landfills last year, 2018 was the most wasteful in the state’s history. In fact, residents created an extra 10 million pounds of trash per day as compared to 2017, totaling nearly 16 million tons of waste, only 17% of which was recycled. That weighs in at half the national average.
The price of recycled materials plummeted in the wake of China’s decision to ban nearly all U.S. imports of recycled paper and plastic in 2018, making recycling more cost-prohibitive. Still, several communities, including Boulder and Longmont as well as Boulder County, have created models other municipalities can replicate to boost waste diversion.
“Other countries refusing our trash is making us take responsibility for our own consumption,” Marlon Reis, first gentleman of Colorado, said outside the Boulder County Recycling Center as part of the report’s release and in anticipation of Governor Jared Polis proclaiming Nov 11 through 15 as Colorado Recycles Week. “Now it’s time to move forward and look towards the future of recycling in Colorado.”
The first and most simple solution suggested in the report is for cities and counties to offer curbside recycling as part of their waste collection programs.
Since 2016, when the Boulder City Council enacted its Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, which requires all businesses, apartment complexes and home to have recycling and compost collection, Boulder increased its recycling rate by from 40% to 57%, the highest rate in the state.
Nevertheless, despite similar results for curbside recycling programs around the country, only three of Colorado’s 10 largest cities currently offer curbside recycling.
Kate Bailey, the director of Eco-Cycle Solutions, noted there are several ways communities can go about achieving this standard.
In Longmont, which recycles 36% of its waste, the city provides curbside recycling through its municipal garbage collection. In Boulder, all garbage collectors are required to provide curbside recycling and compost to receive a license. Lafayette, which recycles 38% of its waste, and Louisville, which recycles 53%, requires curbside recycling as part of the garbage collection contracts it puts out for bid.
“Just because you have these programs, doesn’t mean it makes garbage collection more expensive,” she said. “There is an economy of scale having everyone in the community on the same program because the truck hits every home on every street and make it very efficient.”
Curbside recycling programs are made more effective when communities also offer financial incentives, like volume-based pricing that charges more for larger trash cans.
The proliferation of these kinds of programs around the state has slightly improved Colorado’s recycling, increasing the state’s recycling rate from 12% to 17%.
While curbside recycling program could help Colorado reach it’s goal of recycling 28% of its waste by 2021, to reach the zero waste the report suggests Colorado must create a closed-loop recycling system where recycled materials are re-used by in-state manufacturers.
Currently, according to the report, there are a handful of such companies in Colorado — Rocky Mountain Bottle Company, Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel, Applegate Insulation and Spring Back Colorado, which uses recycled mattresses to make green dog beds.
However, due to a lack of recycling facilities around the state, and in rural areas in particular, Rocky Mountain Bottle Company ships glass from Michigan to use in its bottles, while Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel is only able to source about 60 percent of its scrap metal from in-state.
In response, Governor Polis’ and the state legislature created the Front Range Waste Diversion Enterprise Grant Program. That will provide up to $15 million per year in grants to help cities, haulers, schools and businesses in the Front Range, where 85% of the state’s waste is generated, implement new waste diversion programs.
As more materials are collected through these programs, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s NextCycle program is working to incubate businesses working to divert waste.
The state legislature’s Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Committee, which toured Boulder’s recycling facilities in September, is also set to introduce two bills to help recycling-oriented businesses in Colorado.
The first will outline a plan for developing a recycling end-market development center that will assist businesses by providing market analysis, identifying financial incentives and advocating for pro recycling policies.
The second bill will aim to develop composting facilities and the usage of compost to restore soils and store carbon.
Locally, the City of Boulder is hosting a circular economy visioning workshop at the Open Space and Mountain Parks Hub on Nov. 13 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. During the event, Metabolic, an industry leading sustainability consultant group based out of Amsterdam, will work with attendees to develop a holistic picture of material waste streams in Boulder and find more ways to close the recycling loop locally.
Countywide, Commissioner Deb Gardner noted the County’s newly approved sustainability tax will help to fund the development of a composting facility. Further down the line the tax is expected to fund a construction and demolition center capable of recycling construction materials, a key gap in services in Boulder County according to Kate Bailey of Eco-Cycle.
If successful, Eco-Cycle and Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation, estimates Colorado could eventually divert 95% of its waste from landfills and significantly reduce our state’s carbon footprint.
“We want Colorado to be a leader in fighting climate change brought on by human industry and proper recycling is such an important piece in working towards that success,” Reis, said. “We must disentangle ourselves from the single-use mindset.”