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Danny Katz,
CoPIRG

New Report: Composting Key to Improving Denver’s Abysmal 20% Recycling Rate

Offering Compost Collection Provides Benefits from Gardens to Climate Change
For Immediate Release

While Denver’s abysmal 20% recycling rate is one of the worst among cities across the country, a new report shows that offering citywide compost collection services could make Denver a recycling leader. The new report released today, by nonprofits CoPIRG and Eco-Cycle, highlighted that approximately 50% of the waste that a typical Denver resident produces is compostable and should go in a green compost bin. Unfortunately, only 6% of Denver residents currently have the green compost bin that is picked up by the city every other week.

Watch a video of the event here.

“Denver’s lack of composting is a leading reason why we have one of the worst recycling rates in the country,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG Director. “Half of Denver’s trash could be composted, including food scraps, leaves and grass clippings. But unlike the black trash and purple recycling bins, very few Denver residents have green compost bins.”  

“Instead of sending compostable materials to the landfill and exacerbating groundwater pollution and climate change, Denver should run a robust compost collection program for all residents,” said Kate Bailey, Eco-Cycle Solutions Director. “By rolling out compost collection service for all residents, Denver could keep nearly 80,000 tons a year out of Denver’s landfill. This is enough yard debris and food scraps every year to fill the entire Mile High stadium nearly nine feet deep. 

“People tend to think that it’s okay to throw away organic items like grass clippings, food scraps like banana peels and fruit rinds, and cardboard boxes because they are biodegradable. But what happens at the landfill is that these materials decompose anaerobically, or without oxygen. This process contributes to landfill leachate, or “garbage juice,” that can pollute groundwater if it leaks out of the landfill. It also creates methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 84 times more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide in the short term,” said Bailey. 

The report found that about 50% of the waste produced by a typical Denver resident could be kept out of the black trash bins and instead disposed of in a green compost bin that the city could collect and send to a compost facility. This could keep nearly 80,000 tons of compostable trash out of Denver’s landfills.  

“Even though Denver has one of the worst recycling rates in the country, we could be a recycling leader if we rolled out a robust composting program for Denver residents that helped shift 50% of our waste from the black bin to the green bin,” said Katz.

Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG highlighted the benefits of diverting compostable items from landfills. First of all, diverting these items is one of the best steps Denver can take to reduce its carbon footprint and combat climate change by keeping organic materials out of landfills and avoiding potent methane emissions. In addition, applying compost to the soil stores carbon and keeps it out of the atmosphere, further reducing emissions. 

“It is ridiculous that we would send our food and yard waste to a landfill to create garbage juice and methane, when we could separate it out with a green bin and recycle it,” said Katz. 

Denver residents also benefit when organic materials are returned in the form of finished compost, which is especially important this time of year as we kick off summer gardening. Using compost in gardens and parks helps put valuable nutrients back in the soil and grow healthier food using less water. According to Denver Water, for every pound of compost you mix into 100 pounds of soil, your soil can hold an additional four gallons of water.

“From our climate to our gardens, composting is a critical sustainability tool. It combats climate change, improves soil nutrition and reduces water use. Putting compost down in our gardens, parks and fields is the most important step we can take right now to improve our soil and grow healthier local food,” said Bailey. 

Denver’s current compost collection program requires residents to opt-in and pay a nearly $10 per month fee. Currently only 6% of residents are part of the program. Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG cited this low participation rate as a leading factor for Denver’s abysmal 20% recycling rate. Denver’s rate is far below the national average recycling rate of 34 percent and well behind peer cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah, Fresno, CA, and Austin, Texas. 

“We are glad to see Mayor Hancock and the Denver City Council, especially leaders like Councilman Jolon Clark, recognize the need to tackle Denver’s poor recycling rate by making recycling and solid waste a priority issue in 2017. We can’t make significant progress and become a truly green city without expanding easy and convenient access to composting to every resident, and from there to every business as well,” said Bailey. 

The two groups recommended that Denver roll out household compost collection and the green bins to every Denver household. They also recommended expanding restaurant composting to reduce wasted food at businesses, and including recycling and composting at all apartment buildings. 

The full report can be found here

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