New Report: Transformational Producer Responsibility law and municipal actions position Colorado for breakthrough on statewide recycling

Media Contacts

DENVER – Colorado’s recycling and composting rate continues to hover at a low 16%, according to the sixth annual State of Recycling and Composting report by Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG. That’s half the national average and significantly lower than leading Colorado cities like Loveland and Longmont with residential recycling and composting rates of 58% and 42%, respectively.

However, despite the lack of progress, Colorado is poised to at least double its recycling rate thanks to local level actions in communities like Denver, Arvada, and Summit County, and nation-leading state actions, including the passage of a transformational Producer Responsibility policy for recycling packaging and paper and legislation to develop a Circular Economy Center, which will support businesses that use recycled materials to make new products.

“For six years we’ve reported on statewide recycling rates that are well below average, with the exception of a handful of Colorado communities achieving higher rates. But now there is hope on the horizon that barriers to success will be removed for all communities,” said Suzanne Jones, Executive Director of Eco-Cycle. “With the passage of recent ground-breaking policies, Colorado is primed for a ‘recycling revolution’ that will radically increase waste diversion statewide in the next few years and make our state a national model.”

“Our recycling rate may be trashy, but thanks to landmark actions on the state and local level in 2022, we are poised for a transformation that will reduce wasteful packaging and ramp up recycling,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG Executive Director. “Developing a Producer Responsibility system means Colorado will partner with large producers to ensure we reduce unnecessary packaging that is currently flooding our homes, and shift literally tons of valuable materials away from landfills to companies that will reuse them.”

“Colorado is making progress on recycling but there’s more work to do to make our state cleaner and more sustainable. Let’s turn the corner, so please recycle more often to do your part in protecting the Colorado we love and our planet,” said Governor Jared Polis.

“When you recycle you help protect Colorado today and tomorrow while safeguarding the iconic places we enjoy and the communities we love. Coloradans have supported, the legislature has passed and the Governor signed landmark recycling laws but we know there is more we can all do together to recycle our way toward a more sustainable future for all,” said First Gentleman Marlon Reis.

According to the report, the average Coloradan landfills 2,000 pounds of material annually, nearly double the national average. A leading cause for Colorado’s poor diversion rate is the lack of curbside access for many Coloradans and a patchwork of recycling rules and infrastructure that lead to inconsistencies and higher costs, especially in rural areas.

Once implemented, Colorado’s Producer Responsibility law for packaging and paper, the 3rd in the country, will provide everyone in the state with convenient recycling at no charge and a clear list of recyclable items, as well as providing businesses with higher quality, reliable recyclable materials for their products.

Significantly improving our recycling and reducing unnecessary waste are critical ways to tackle climate change, create jobs and grow local businesses and supply chains in the face of the continuing supply chain crisis.

Producers of consumer goods that will fall under the producer responsibility law are already working together to form an organization that will implement the new system based on decades of best practices in similar organizations across the world, but tailored to Colorado’s needs. By 2024, they will complete a needs assessment to determine what it will take to ensure every Coloradan has access to convenient recycling services, the state has the infrastructure to better process recyclable materials more cost effectively and businesses have access to reliable, high-quality recyclable materials for reuse.

In addition to the Producer Responsibility law, Colorado has seen other major successes in 2022:

  • Denver City Council approved the “Expanded Waste Services” policy, which will expand curbside composting to every resident, increase the frequency of recycling pickup and implement a volume-based billing system that will provide an incentive to recycle and compost. In addition, Denver voters approved measure 306, which will require recycling and composting at larger apartments, most businesses and permitted events and recycling at construction sites—addressing sectors that generate over 80% of Denver’s waste.
  • Arvada began implementation of its universal curbside recycling program.
  • Breckenridge and Frisco adopted Pay-As-You-Throw and universal recycling policies that extend recycling to all businesses and residents and incentivize waste diversion.
  • Vail launched a new curbside composting program for residents including some in multifamily housing.
  • Clean Valley Recycling in Otero, Crowley, and Bent Counties diverted 22% more tons of waste in 2021 versus 2020.
  • Entrepreneurial compost businesses in Durango, Salida, Fort Collins, Aurora, North Denver, Steamboat Springs, and elsewhere, most of which are woman-owned, are leading the way to creating new compost collection systems and infrastructure unique to Colorado’s challenges and needs, and helping to drive action for a statewide plan.
  • The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) commissioned a statewide organics management plan to serve as a framework to identify key elements, options, and recommendations to increase organic waste diversion opportunities throughout the state.

The report can be found here.