Most of us have plenty to think about besides the impact our trash has on our local environment after we take it to the curb. But the urgency of climate change has been harder to ignore: The growing number of days over 100 degrees. The drought impacting our treasured mountain snowpack. The heat impacting our cities. Devastating wildfires – in December. 

Tangier Barnes Wright

Although Denver is doing its part to convert our energy sources to renewables, in one significant way we’re not living up to our green reputation: we have one of the worst composting and recycling rates in the country. But we have a chance to change that through a new policy proposal that incentivizes climate-saving outcomes by charging for the volume of trash a household throws away.

Composting and recycling isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for the soul and my bank account. While my city taxes pay for trash collection, I pay the city $30 per quarter to have our compostibles taken to a composting facility.

The Expanded Waste Service policy, if passed by Denver City Council, would provide weekly composting and recycling services to every household for free, while charging a monthly fee of $9-21 for trash collection, depending on the size of the black trash bin a family chooses for its landfill trash.

I live in a single-family home with my husband and three kids under the age of 5. Needless to say, we generate some waste. This new system will help me be even more thoughtful about where I send it. Almost half of what ends up in Denver’s landfills could be sent to our composting facility where the waste literally becomes soil that we can use to grow trees and other beautiful things.

The trash we throw away, including compostable food and yard waste, is piling up in our local landfill, creating an alarming amount of greenhouse-gas emissions, including methane. Greenhouse-gas emissions are not just bad for the globe. They make local problems worse; poor air quality, rising temperatures, drought.

I think about increased hospitalizations due to asthma, devastation caused by local flooding, and vulnerable people living without air conditioning. Our lower income communities and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by these negative impacts of climate change.

In addition to the equity benefits of reduced greenhouse-gas pollution, the proposed policy would also create a first-of-its-kind instant rebate for low-income homeowners or renters based on household size and income. 

We live here together. We love Denver and we love Colorado, but Denver sends 65% of its waste to the landfill. If Denver could cut that down to 30%, it would reduce emissions from waste by nearly three million metric tons. That’s equal to taking more than 600,000 cars off the road.

In light of our reduced winter snowpack and reduced summer quality of life, it’s time to make that happen. Adopting this new residential waste program is the first step to get us there.   

The proposed fees for trash collection are reasonable. If we fill up Denver’s landfill with garbage, we should pay for it. If we don’t want to pay for it, we can recycle — and, especially, compost — more.

I’m 39 years old, born and raised in Colorado, and it baffles me that this system doesn’t yet exist in Denver when it is common in many other cities. What do you mean we aren’t incentivizing people to compost and recycle?

Denver City Council has a chance to act. Given the benefits to our local environment and the equity rebate that is built into the proposed policy, the path is clear.  Let’s encourage our council representatives to vote in favor of this policy.

Tangier Barnes Wright lives in Denver.

NOTE: The original version of this column incorrectly stated the amount currently paid for composting service. It is $30 per quarter, not $30 per month. Additionally, the original version incorrectly stated the proposed new rates for trash collection; they are $9-$21 per month, not $9-$20 per month. The corrections were made May 20 at 10:28 a.m.

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