Partner Profile: Eco-Cycle’s Denver Waste Diversion Campaign | Green Team Academy

Partner Profile: Eco-Cycle’s Denver Waste Diversion Campaign

Taking on Waste Diversion in Denver

Eco-Cycle was founded in 1976 by residents who worked together to bring curbside recycling to Boulder, Colorado. It's now one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the U.S. and is an internationally recognized innovator in resource conservation.  

In recent years, Eco-Cycle began working in Denver to help improve Denver's dismal waste diversion results. 

With a 23 percent recycling rate, Denver trails most U.S. cities. Denver 's recycling rate is far below the national average recycling rate of 34 percent. Worse yet, it's rate is less than half of its peer cities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin, Texas which are recycling at 40 percent or more.

Denver also lags when compared to leaders in Colorado's Front Range. See how Colorado cities compare.

Source: How Denver Can Achieve Sustainability From the Ground Up, Eco-Cycle

What is Creating the Problem?

The City of Denver reports that 25 percent of Denver's trash could be recycled, and another 50 percent could be composted. So, why is 75 percent of our waste stream unnecessarily going to the landfill?

The problem is in the details of how waste is priced and collected in Denver:

  • Residents of most multi-family units don't have access to recycling or composting services.
  • Business produce half the city's trash but have little incentive to recycle and compost.
  • Residents that produce more trash pay no direct fees, while residents that take the positive step of composting with a curbside cart must pay to do so.  
  • Denver residents and businesses also may not be aware of the options, ease and importance of recycling and composting. 

Eco-Cycle advocates as "Pay as You Throw" pricing structure. This would flip the pricing structure around so that those who act to reduce their landfill waste would pay less than those who don't. 

Making a Wave in Denver

Jasmin Barco, Outreach Coordinator with Eco-Cycle, is spearheading the Denver Zero Waste Campaign.

Eco-Cycle's 2019 Denver initiatives include:

  • Coordinating individual speakers for City Council meetings and Letters to the Editor to advocate for better recycling and composting services
  • Coordinating a "Green Wave" at the July City Council meetings, with over 100 people wearing green shirts to show support for Pay as You Throw pricing
  • Training Denver Eco-Leaders
  • Recruiting and training volunteers to staff Zero Waste events
  • Partnering with community teams as part of the Green Team Accelerator Lab
  • Helping coordinate the citywide Denver Compost Challenge
  • Participating in the Recycle Colorado Lobby Days for statewide change
  • Knocking on doors of 2,000 homes to give information on city waste services, and encouraging recycling and composting

Meeting Denver's Sustainability Goal from the Ground Up

Denver's 2020 Sustainability Goal for waste diversion is to achieve 34 percent waste diversion rate by 2020. 

The joint report by Eco-Cycle and COPIRG, How Denver Can Achieve Sustainability from the Ground Up, finds that composting is the best opportunity to reduce waste in Denver. Since over half of Denver's waste is organic, providing composting collection service to all businesses and residents, along with education, would be the most effective strategy for meeting the 2020 goal. 

Source: How Denver Can Achieve Sustainability from the Ground Up, Eco-Cycle

Benefits of Composting

Organic materials sent to the landfills really is a waste! In addition to keeping waste out of the landfill, composting has many other important benefits:

  • Powerful climate action
  • Soil and water conservation
  • Healthy food
  • Green jobs and economic benefits

The Eco-Cycle and COPIRG report authors conclude that Denver can achieve sustainability from the ground up:

With all this food and yard debris piling up in our landfills, we’re missing big opportunities to reduce climate pollution, build healthy soils that grow healthy food, save water, reduce waste and create local jobs by composting! 
Residents want to do the right thing, but composting needs to be convenient, accessible and affordable for everyone. Denver City Council and the Mayor need to hear from you that composting is important to you as a proud resident of Denver and that you want better services for everyone. 
Speak up! Let’s turn Denver around from a waste hog to a sustainability leader.

Statewide Recycling and Composting Initiatives

At the consumer level, Coloradans recycled or composted just 17.2 percent of the municipal solid waste (MSW) they generated in 2018, less than half the national average of 35 percent.

Jasmin Barco of Eco-Cycle introduced attendees of our October 8, 2019 Accelerator Lab meeting to an organization that is working statewide on waste diversion.

Recycle Colorado is a member-driven organization working to advance state and local policy that supports keeping valuable materials out of the landfill. 

In 2019, Recycle Colorado identified the following legislative priorities:

  • Prioritize waste diversion along the Front Range. These communities generate 85 percent of the waste statewide and are well-positioned to make huge strides, but would benefit from support and a push from the state to prioritize waste reduction.
  • Create a council and change ta regulations to promote a robust market for recycled and diverted waste materials.
  • Allow local communities to regulate disposable plastic waste. This would allow communities to regular polystyrene take-out containers, plastic straws, utensils and bags. 

Lobby Day

Recycle Colorado hosts an annual Lobby Day during the legislative session. This is an opportunity to meet your legislators and others that are either working on recycling or play a key role in the legislative process. You can make a difference by sharing your experience as a citizen or as a business or local government working in the recycling and waste field.

2020 Legislation Underway

A special panel of Colorado lawmakers is meeting to address Colorado's dismal recycling rate. Read more about two draft bills. 

Take Action

Here's what you can do:

Joan Gregerson