Last year, the first-ever statewide survey
of recycling rates showed Colorado recycled only 12 percent of its waste. Compared with the national average of 34 percent, it wasn't pretty.
This year's survey results — released Nov. 14, the day before America Recycles Day — aren't better. Colorado's rate stayed exactly the same.
The report, written by Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and titled "The State of Recycling in Colorado: 2018
," shows that in 2017, Coloradans created more than 9 million tons of waste. That's an average of 1.45 tons per resident.
“Colorado’s low recycling rate comes as a shock to most people who think of us as a ‘green’ state,” Kate Bailey, Eco-Cycle’s director of research and policy, is quoted in a statement. “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."
On a county-by-county basis, Boulder County had the highest recycling rate: 40 percent, with Pitkin County coming in second at 30 percent. Denver County recycles 22 percent of its waste. But many counties, including El Paso County, don't track recycling rates.
Out of cities that collect data (most, like Colorado Springs, don't), Fort Collins came in first with a 55 percent overall rate. Boulder was a close second at 51 percent.
The report cites 2011 data from a one-time study that showed El Paso and Teller counties recycled just 11 percent of their waste.
The May closure of GOALZERO, a recycling program that provided a free drop-off point for recyclable materials in Colorado Springs, probably didn't help. There's currently just one place left in the city where residents can simply drop off recyclables: the Household Hazardous Waste Facility for El Paso County at 3255 Akers Drive.
The report did indicate some bright spots elsewhere in Colorado. Longmont increased its recycling rate by 5 percent, which researchers credit to a new curbside composting program. The city of Boulder bumped up its overall rate to 51 percent, attributed to a new ordinance that requires all businesses, apartments and homes to recycle and compost. And Pueblo opened its first public drop-off recycling center, possibly a first step to boosting the area's dismal 5 percent rate.
In Colorado Springs, waste disposal has long been a private service and the city doesn't have immediate plans to change that, says Skyler Leonard, city digital communications specialist. (El Paso County does have a recycling directory
with information on how and where to recycle.)
Colorado's Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission adopted statewide and regional recycling goals
last year that aim to increase the statewide rate to 28 percent by 2021 (32 percent for "Front Range" counties, which include El Paso County). Reaching that target would decrease carbon emissions at a level that is the equivalent of taking 485,000 cars off the road each year, the report says.
The ReWall Company, an Iowa-based business that recycles paper and plastic cartons into building materials, could help Colorado reach that goal thanks to a $1.5 million grant it received through the state's Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity Grant Program. The company plans to launch operations next year.
The report outlines several steps Governor-elect Jared Polis could take to improve recycling programs in Colorado:
1) Appoint a statewide recycling coordinator to coordinate with other state agencies and local governments to "create a comprehensive approach to building our new recycling economy."
2) Launch a "recycling market development initiative" to attract more remanufacturers (like ReWall) that keep recycled materials in local communities.
3) Create a statewide waste diversion funding task force to find ways to increase funding for recycling and other waste reduction programs.
4) Expand recycling and composting at state agencies, purchase compost for state projects, and set recycling goals for state construction projects.