Denver rolls out new carts for refuse, recyclables and organics citywide

Dive Brief:

  • The Denver City Council recently approved a $2.2 million purchase order for more than 45,000 Toter carts to continue a multi-year effort by the Department of Public Works​ to standardize collection carts and expand recycling access, as reported by The Denver Post
  • This includes 35,000 95-gallon black refuse carts that will complete a shift away from customer-owned barrels and alleyway dumpsters. DPW will also be delivering 6,500 purple recycling carts this summer, part of a plan to encourage more participation in the city's voluntary recycling program.
  • The order also includes 3,100 green carts for a voluntary curbside organics collection program. Residents currently have to pay $29.95 every three months for the service. While participation is expected to increase to about 20,000 households once routes expand this year, that is small compared to the city's overall population.

Dive Insight:

Denver has seen its residential diversion increase from 16% in recent years to 20% for 2016, yet this is still far below the city's goal of 34% by 2020. Last year, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle released a report calling this situation "abysmal." They advocated for a long-term "zero waste" goal and efforts to double commercial diversion rates by 2020. 

Their recommendations include expanding access to buildings with more than seven units — a large share of the city's housing stock — and enacting a pay-as-you-throw system that no longer charges for curbside organics collection. Some form of incentive system could also encourage more recycling participation. DPW has found that residents will often use the purple recycling bins if they're dropped off, but will not always ask for them. 

While some municipalities may be wary of offering organics collection for free due to what can sometimes be higher handling and processing costs, they can look to their West Coast counterparts as evidence that this is doable. More cities are beginning to consider coupling that service with some form of volume-based financial incentive system, which may offer the highest chance of success. However they choose to proceed, Denver has the advantage of being home to multiple innovative processing facilities that are capable of processing recyclables more efficiently than most once collected.

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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Recycling Waste Diversion
Top image credit: Larry Johnson