Composting: How Denver Can Achieve Sustainability from the Ground Up

Released by: CoPIRG and Eco-Cycle

With a 20 percent recycling rate, Denver is at the back of the pack compared to other U.S. cities. For starters, Denver is far below the national average recycling rate of 34 percent. Worse yet, Denver’s recycling rate is less than half that of its peer cities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Austin, Texas, which are recycling 40 percent or more.

Denver’s residents send more than 190,000 tons of trash to the landfill every year, enough to fill a train all the way from Denver to Fort Collins, more than 70 miles long. All this garbage leaves Denver with more than just a trashy reputation—we’re missing big opportunities to reduce climate pollution, build healthy soils that grow healthy food, recycle our waste and create local jobs.

So what’s in all this trash that‘s filling up Denver’s landfill? It’s a lot of leaves, grass clippings, branches and wasted food. More than half of what residents throw away is biodegradable materials that could have been easily composted in a green bin instead of ending up in the trash. 

The problem is Denver’s existing composting program is extremely limited, costly and inconvenient. While nearly 80 percent of residents have a purple bin for recycling at their home, only six percent of Denver residents have a green bin for composting. To make matters worse, these residents are paying an additional monthly fee to compost and do the right thing, while people who produce more trash don’t pay any direct fees. This means the financial incentive is backwards and promotes wasting instead of more recycling and composting.

Instead of sending compostable materials to the landfill and exacerbating groundwater pollution and climate change, Denver residents should be able to easily compost their food scraps and yard debris. By doing so, residents can be part of a new system that helps to combat climate change, reduce waste, create local green jobs and build healthy soil to grow healthy local food.

Composting builds a better future for Denver.

Our recommendations are focused on:

  • Expanding single-family composting
  • Providing equitable services to apartment residents
  • Implementing restaurant composting
  • Using compost for city operations
  • Reducing food waste


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