Report: Colorado lacks recycling access and the data to track where it's working
- Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) recently conducted the first statewide recycling survey of its kind, finding that residents in 25 of the state's 64 counties don't have access to curbside recycling service. Seven of those counties don't have curbside or drop-off access at all.
- Currently, 15 cities, representing 24% of Colorado's population, automatically provide curbside recycling access. Among the largest cities in Colorado, Loveland was the leader with a 61% residential recycling rate, followed by Boulder with 53% and Louisville with 48%. Denver's rate was 20%.
- Most cities — with the exception of Aspen, Boulder, Fort Collins and Lyons — don't fully track data for waste and recycling across residential and commercial sectors. Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG's report recommended better data collection, more curbside access, volume-based pricing, universal recycling for multi-unit and commercial buildings, and more organics processing infrastructure.
Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) puts the state's diversion rate around 19%. Eco-Cycle's report estimates that number is actually closer to 12% when scrap recycling isn't counted, making it one of the lowest in the country. A resolution adopted in August has now set the state on a path to reach 28% by 2021, 35% by 2026 and 45% by 2036. The state's Front Range communities, where much of the population is centered, have higher targets within that broader goal. Though as highlighted by this report, many Front Range cities still have a lot of room for improvement in terms of data collection and curbside access.
Among the most successful cities, Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG noted a few common trends. Each city has automatic access to recycling, volume-based pricing and curbside or drop-off organics service. Boulder and Louisville provide curbside organics service automatically, and Eco-Cycle has also made the case for expanding this service in Denver. Interest in organics diversion is growing in the capital city and Denver was part of the Natural Resource Defense Council's new multi-city food waste study. Statewide, organics diversion is less developed with composting facilities in less than a quarter of all counties and curbside organics service in seven cities.
While Boulder, where Eco-Cycle is located, is often held up as a model city for its continually expanding diversion options what works there won't necessarily work in every Colorado municipality. The costs of curbside service for recycling or organics can be harder to figure out in rural areas.
Data collection could help justify this service, but is also an added expense for many smaller local governments. The report does note that grant funding from CDPHE has recently helped make waste audits possible in some of these areas, in turn highlighting the economic opportunities that may be missed by not recycling more.
Eco-Cycle estimates that if Colorado increased recycling tonnage by 10% that could mitigate more than 450,000 tons of carbon emissions each year. Exact figures may shift due to current market fluctuations, but the report also estimates that $265 million worth of recyclable material is currently being sent to landfills rather than recovered.
- Eco-Cycle The State of Recycling in Colorado
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