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FILE - Cans and plastic bottles brought in for recycling fill containers at a recycling center in Sacramento, Calif., July 5, 2016. Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration proposed Friday, April 1, 2022, to temporarily double California's typical nickel refunds for bottles and cans to boost recycling and help spend down a roughly $600 million surplus built up during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Colorado would have a statewide recycling program funded by fees charged to companies that produce packaging under a bill passed by the legislature Wednesday. Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign House Bill 1355 into law. 

The fees would be used to provide recycling services to most communities and residents across Colorado in the hopes of diverting more waste from landfills. Coloradans wouldn’t be charged directly for the services, but they may end up paying higher prices for goods if the fees are passed along to consumers.

The Colorado Sun analyzed the bill to help you understand how the initiative would work:

The timeline

The executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment must appoint a 15-member advisory board to oversee the program by Dec. 31. The board’s first meeting is set for March 1, 2023. 

By June 1, 2023, the CDPHE executive director would select a nonprofit to serve as the producer-responsibility organization in charge of administering the program. While proponents of the measure don’t have a specific nonprofit in mind, the belief among proponents of the bill is that a new nonprofit will likely be formed by producers and that organization will seek to be the nonprofit selected by CDPHE.

Starting in 2025, producers would start paying annual dues to the nonprofit. On July 1, 2025, producers would be prohibited from selling, offering or distributing any products in Colorado unless they are paying into the program. 

What are the fees?

The nonprofit selected to run the statewide recycling program would determine how much money each company would be charged.

The amount would be based on the type of materials they produce and how recyclable those materials are. It would also be based on how much the nonprofit determines it will cost to carry out the statewide recycling plan. 

The fees would be used to pay for contracted recycling services for items like paper, bound books and packaging materials. 

The dues would be updated annually and will be designed to encourage companies to move toward using less packaging materials and to be more eco-friendly. 

A number of organizations would be exempt from the fees, including small businesses, newspapers and agricultural employers. State government, local governments, nonprofits, would also be exempt.

Producers that used less than 1 ton of recyclable materials in the prior year, or had less than $5 million in gross total revenue — not including alcohol sales for onsite consumption — would be exempt, too. 

What does this mean for my community?

Communities would be asked whether they want recycling services under the program. No city or county would be forced to join.

And while the initiative is meant to be statewide, Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican and prime sponsor of House Bill 1355, said some corners of the state may not get recycling service if it’s not feasible because of cost and/or accessibility. 

Communities that already have municipal or county recycling services could be reimbursed or subsidized by the nonprofit. Denver, for instance, already offers its residents recycling pickup. 

Recyclables are seen at the Eco-Cycle compost and recycling center on Dec. 21, 2021, in Boulder. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

What are the penalties for companies that don’t comply?

Companies that try to skirt the new program would face fines.  

For the first violation, they would face a $5,000 fine on the first day of the violation and $1,500 for each day the violation continues. 

For a second violation in the same year, they would face a $10,000 fine for the first day of the violation and $3,000 for each day the violation continues. 

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And for the third and subsequent violation within a year, they would owe $20,000 for the first day of the violation and $6,000 for each day the violation continues. 

A company can submit a request for a hearing over the fine.

Does the legislature have oversight of the program?

Yes, the nonprofit would be required to present its plan for offering recycling services and charging companies to the General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee. The nonprofit also needs the committee’s approval to move forward with some of its proposals. 

The nonprofit would also have to have public meetings.

What other states have this?

Legislatures in Maine and Oregon have recently passed bills similar to the one in Colorado. And so-called producer-responsibility rules already exist in Canada in various forms. 

A number of other states are considering packaging laws, including California, Massachusetts and Maryland. 

Colorado Sun staff writers Michael Booth and Shannon Najmabadi contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...