The Recycling Partnership recently announced its newest project, with Denver Public Works, to help the Colorado city boost diversion rates for aluminum and steel cans. The three-month program will be funded in part by a $240,000 grant from the national nonprofit.
Using a similar strategy to their other residential education pilots, staff from The Recycling Partnership will assist city workers in tagging carts with information cards along four routes. The campaign will also include mailers, signs and social media activity.
Before-and-after waste characterization data provided by Cascadia Consulting Group will help assess the pilot's effectiveness in increasing can diversion. According to a press release, any progress on raising the city's residential diversion rate from 20% to a goal of 34% by 2020 will be seen as a success.
This will be the first time The Recycling Partnership has brought its curbside education approach to bear specifically on capturing more of certain items in a recycling program, rather than keeping them out of it. Following early pilots in multiple Massachusetts municipalities last year the national nonprofit has expanded its efforts. As seen most recently in Atlanta and Chicago, this method has been more commonly used to reduce contamination from items such as plastic bags.
While the release noted that Denver's recycling stream may be cleaner than others, the city has been taking a lot of heat for its low diversion rate recently. Last year, local recycler Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group released a report calling it "abysmal." At the time, the city's residential diversion rate was just 18%. The city has since approved the purchase of thousands of new collection carts, including purple recycling models, to help standardize service and increase participation in their voluntary program. This is seen as a good step, though interest has also been shown for better recycling access in multi-unit buildings and expanded organics collection options.
Because of its location near cheap landfills, Denver hasn't been able to justify a full-scale organics push yet. Though the stable prices and theoretically limitless recyclability of aluminum or steel cans make them a safer place to start. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's most recent data, the average national recycling rate is close to 71% for steel cans and 55% for aluminum. The fact that Colorado doesn't have a bottle bill also means there won't be competition for these cans and less of an excuse for residents to not just put them in their purple carts.