7th annual report: Despite stubbornly low recycling rate, Colorado action poised to pay off

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DENVER – Colorado’s recycling rate stubbornly remains one of the worst in the country according to the seventh annual State of Recycling and Composting report released on the eve of America Recycles Day. However, despite the state only diverting around 16% of waste into recycling and composting bins, the report authors say Colorado is poised for significant breakthroughs in reducing waste thanks to local entrepreneurship, action by local governments and the state’s model policies around repair, reducing problematic single-use plastic and ensuring producers take more responsibility for the product packaging that they sell in Colorado.

Every year, Coloradans generate around seven million tons of municipal solid waste – and about 85% of that ends up in landfills. To acknowledge the important role that reducing and reusing play in combating Colorado’s waste problem, Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG Foundation expanded this year’s report to include examples of how communities and businesses can reduce, reuse, recycle and compost more effectively by reducing pollution, redesigning products to be less resource-intensive and toxic, and capturing more “waste” for reintroduction into the economy as feedstocks for new products.

To underscore the need to expand beyond recycling, the report was released at Chook, a local Denver restaurant, that partners with a reuse company called DeliverZero, which offers customers the option to take out foods in reusable containers that are returned to the store to be cleaned and reused instead of the more common cardboard, plastic or styrofoam single-use containers.

“Colorado is leading the way with the adoption of state policies, like the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act and Producer Responsibility, but recycling alone isn’t enough. We have to return to the basics of ALL three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” said Rachel Setzke of Eco-Cycle, one of the co-authors of the report. “The time is now for us to pursue systemic solutions to build a truly circular economy for Colorado that will boost our recycling and composting rates, reduce plastic waste, and prevent the need for the extraction of natural resources in the first place.”

“It’s hard to have a good recycling rate when so much of the stuff that wraps the things we buy can’t even be recycled or worse yet, are designed not to last,” said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG Foundation. “To reduce waste we need to first start by eliminating unnecessary things that are only used once and ensure the products we buy are made to last and be reused. For everything else, let’s ensure we can collect and recycle or compost it.”

“We’re a small, scrappy company, fueled by the passion to make sustainability accessible to everyone, especially the local businesses that partner with us to make our vision a reality,” said Lauren Sweeney, co-founder and CEO of DeliverZero. “Our mission is simple but bold: to offer a practical solution that not only reduces waste but transforms how people perceive their relationship to resources like packaging. To make efforts like ours even more successful, we could use more collaboration, policies incentivizing or mandating reusable options, grant funding and increased consumer awareness of the link between climate change and waste.”

Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG Foundation applauded the Governor and Colorado legislators including Senator Lisa Cutter, Kevin Priola, Julie Gonzales and Representatives Alex Valdez, Brianna Titone, Meg Froelich, Karen McCormick, Junie Joseph and Kathy Kipp for their leadership in passing policies to reduce waste and improve recycling and composting over the last few years.

Both groups called on state leaders to keep moving the ball forward by expanding Right to Repair protections to more products, eliminating additional unnecessary single-use plastics, supporting implementation of Producer Responsibility, and expanding access to composting services.

In addition, both groups called on cities, counties and local businesses to continue to innovate and adopt zero waste policies that support consumers ability to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Check out the full report here.