Can you imagine being able to recycle and compost at every apartment building and business across Denver? With your support, this kind of recycling policy citywide can become a reality.

On Nov. 8, Denverites will vote on a ballot measure, Initiated Ordinance 306 which, if passed, will require Denver’s businesses, apartments, construction sites, permitted events and more to phase in recycling and composting services. According to the city’s 2022 Sustainable Resource Management Plan, 82% of Denver’s waste comes from these locations, yet there is currently no policy to require recycling and composting at these sites.

Ballot measure 306 is championed by the citizen-led grassroots environmental group Waste No More Denver, which believes every Denver resident should have the option of recycling or composting no matter where they live, work or play. The organization collected 11,000 signatures so that Denverites can vote on the future of sustainable waste management this fall. 

Along with the requirement to provide recycling and composting services, the “responsible parties” defined in the ordinance will provide bilingual waste diversion information and instructions to employees and tenets. The ordinance will also require responsible parties to complete an Annual Diversion Plan, which will be created by and submitted to Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

In 2020, nearly 1 million tons of Denver’s waste from homes, commercial properties, and construction sites was buried in a landfill. However, most of Denver’s waste is not trash; it is mostly recyclable and compostable materials that could have been recirculated into the local economy. 

Having strong policies like ballot measure 306 in place will help Denver keep these resources in circulation, create new jobs, ensure a local supply chain, conserve natural resources, and curb climate impacts.

Some of the benefits of recycling and composting include:

• Conserving energy, water, and reducing the demand for the extraction of natural resources;

• Creating many more jobs compared to burying our resources in landfills; 

• Creating a more resilient domestic supply of raw materials to make new products;

• Avoiding methane emissions, which are generated when food scraps and yard waste break down without oxygen at a landfill. Methane is a greenhouse gas that over time is 84 times as powerful in warming the atmosphere as carbon dioxide; 

• Building healthy soils by applying compost to soil. This retains more water, grows more nutritious crops, and pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, reducing climate impacts.

Waste diversion percentages are not abstract numbers; they directly represent the environmental benefits listed above. If Denver wants to get serious about climate action, ensuring access to recycling and composting services for all residents and businesses citywide is a proven method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

As someone who works in Zero Waste outreach, the most frequent comments I hear from Denverites include, “Why doesn’t my apartment building have a recycling bin?” and “Why is Denver’s recycling rate so low? I thought we were a green city.”

Some apartment buildings do recycle and compost, but by requiring all commercial properties to provide responsible waste management systems, ballot measure 306 levels the playing field for businesses that have already chosen to do the right thing by paying for these services.

When the City of Boulder adopted a similar policy, their waste diversion rate skyrocketed from 39% to 57%! Although the costs of recycling and composting were an additional expense for businesses, the investment in a more circular waste management system resulted in significantly more recovered resources. Similar policies are in place along the West Coast and in Austin, Texas, so chain stores already have experience complying with similar policies. 

You may be thinking, “Wait, didn’t the Denver City Council just pass something about recycling and composting?” Yes, it did – but the Expanded Waste Services policy, approved by the council in July 2022, only applies to waste management systems for single-family homes and apartment buildings with seven or fewer units. The Waste No More ballot initiative addresses waste from businesses, apartment buildings and construction sites. The ballot initiative will also require recycling and composting at public events.

Denver is currently behind on sustainable waste management compared to similarly sized cities such as Seattle and Austin, yet ballot measure 306 directly aligns with several of the city’s climate and waste-related goals. 

Voting yes on 306 and getting involved in the Waste No More Denver campaign is an opportunity for you to help Denver move in a more sustainable direction.

Ryan J. Call of Denver is the Denver campaigns coordinator for Eco-Cycle Inc. He earned a master of science degree from the University of Denver with a focus on Zero Waste policy.

Ryan Call

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Ryan Call of Denver is the Denver campaigns coordinator for Eco-Cycle Inc.