Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG, released their second annual State of Recycling in Colorado report, which found that Colorado generated a record 9.3 million tons of waste in 2017, while the state’s recycling rate remained stagnant at 12 percent, well below the national average of 35 percent.
The report’s city-by-city breakdown found that Loveland (61 percent), Boulder (52 percent), and Louisville (44 percent) continue to have the best residential recycling rates. Fort Collins has the best overall recycling rate for residential, commercial, and industrial waste (55 percent), and Aspen’s residential recycling rate of 40 percent is the best outside of the Front Range.
“Colorado’s low recycling rate comes as a shock to most people who think of us as a ‘green’ state,” said Kate Bailey, Eco-Cycle’s Director of Research and Policy and the report’s lead author. “The truth is, 95 percent of what we throw away could have been recycled or composted. With strong state leadership, Colorado is well-positioned to move forward quickly to realize the environmental and economic benefits of increased recycling,” she said. “Increasing our recycling rate statewide is one of the fastest, easiest steps we can take to reduce carbon pollution.”
The new report offers recently elected Governor Jared Polis four recommendations to reverse Colorado’s upward trash trend, including setting recycling and composting goals for state agencies, hiring a statewide Recycling Coordinator, and aggressively pursuing ways to attract new recycling businesses. The goal is to foster a circular economy where glass, bottles, cans, and other recyclable materials stay in Colorado an d are remanufactured into new products in a much more environmentally sustainable way.“
This is the second year we’ve dug into Colorado’s recycling rates and unfortunately, we are still trashy,” said Danny Katz, Director of the advocacy group CoPIRG. “We set the wrong record last year when we produced the most trash ever – 9.3 million tons. Even though Colorado’s one of the trashiest states in the country, our report highlights ways to put Colorado on a greener path.”
Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG offered four actions that Governor-elect Jared Polis can take starting in January, including:
1. Appoint a statewide Recycling Coordinator to coordinate and implement solutions with other state agencies, the state’s climate action plan, and local governments.
2. Launch a Recycling Market Development Initiative to attract and expand recycling businesses. Most of the paper, metal, and plastics collected for recycling are currently shipped out of state, or out of the country. Instead we need to create new businesses in Colorado to reuse and recycle as many of our materials as possible to keep the economic benefits, including jobs, here in Colorado.
3. Create a Statewide Waste Diversion Funding Task Force to study and recommend ways to increase funding for reduction, reuse, recycling, and remanufacturing. Colorado collects a small fee of $0.46 per ton of waste sent to landfills and uses the money to support recycling programs. We are far behind other states, such as Ohio and Wisconsin, which allocate between $2 and $7 per ton to recycling. Colorado’s rate is insufficient to achieve statewide recycling goals. The task force should make recommendations to the Governor and the legislature by January 1st, 2020.
4. Lead by example by expanding recycling and composting at state agencies, purchasing compost for state projects, and setting recycling goals for state construction projects.
John Lair, President and CEO of Momentum Recycling, said his company built a new state-of-the-art glass recycling facility in Broomfield because of the market opportunity. “Colorado was only recycling 6 percent of its glass when our bottle-to-bottle glass recycling facility opened,” Lair said. “Now we’re recycling 23 percent and if the state aggressively expands its recycling efforts, we could be recycling 50 percent in a few years’ time,” he added.
“This perfectly illustrates how a circular economy works,” Lair said, explaining that recyclable raw material (in this case glass) is collected locally, shipped to the local processor (Momentum), and then sent to local manufacturers (Rocky Mountain Bottle Company and O-I Bottling), where the glass is made back into new bottles.
Like last year, this year’s State of Recycling in Colorado report breaks down recycling rates city-by-city and county-by-county. Unfortunately, only 27 cities and 30 counties are collecting data to report, which leaves considerable room for improvement. An analysis of the data found that:
1. The five cities with the best residential-recycling rates (from single-family homes) are Loveland (61 percent), Boulder (52 percent), Louisville (44 percent), Aspen (40 percent) and Longmont (40 percent).
2. Longmont had the biggest improvements in their rates from last year, thanks to a new curbside composting program to collect food scraps and yard debris from residents.
3. The City of Fort Collins diverts nearly 70 percent of its industrial waste, including wood waste, scrap metal, concrete and asphalt, which was a big reason why it has the best recycling rate overall (55 percent) when you include residential, industrial and commercial recycling.
4. Edgewater, Morrison, New Castle, Rifle, and Silt reported data for the first time.
5. Only five counties track and report recycling rates annually: Boulder (40 percent), Denver (22 percent), Eagle (22 percent), Pitkin (30 percent) and Summit (23 percent).
6. A number of cities and communities are taking important actions even if it is not reflected yet in higher statewide recycling rates:
- The City of Pueblo opened its first drop-off recycling center.
- Vail Honeywagon opened the first commercial compost facility in Eagle County.
- Yampa Valley Sustainability Council expanded their annual drop-off program for hard-to-recycle materials.
- Alamosa, Rio Grande, Larimer and Weld counties are all participating in a plastic baling twine recycling program.
What’s the magic behind a successful recycling program? According to the report, leading Colorado cities have two things in common: they provide curbside residential recycling automatically alongside trash collection so residents don’t have to call and ask for it; and they offer curbside pick-up or convenient drop-off programs for yard debris, such as leaves and branches.
“We already know what it takes to do better,” said Eco-Cycle’s Bailey. “We just need a coordinated state effort to really jumpstart our progress.”
The two groups called on all Colorado cities and counties to track their trash and recycling rates moving forward so each community can develop a strategy for diverting waste away from landfills. They also called for the expansion of curbside recycling programs, particularly along the Front Range, to make recycling more convenient for residents and businesses, and for curbside and drop-off programs for yard debris.
“Living in a green state and having such a trashy diversion rate is not just embarrassing, it has big environmental consequences,” said Katz. “Making new things with recycled materials wastes less energy and produces less pollution. If we double Colorado’s recycling rate, it would have the equivalent impact on climate change of taking about 450,000 cars off the road.”