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Colorado Works to Increase Lagging Diversion Rates

Colorado is aiming to bring its diversion rate up to the national average by 2026, and up to 45 percent by 2036, which will be a tall task.

Colorado is aiming to bring its diversion rate up to the national average by 2026, and up to 45 percent by 2036, which will be a tall task. The state currently has a 19 percent diversion rate, and it's facing multiple challenges, including a lack of collection infrastructure in its many rural markets, a lack of end markets for materials and low tipping fees that make landfilling cheaper than scaling up recycling efforts.

Colorado is starting to work on turning its scenario around, with projects like a statewide study to identify materials and end markets for remanufacturing.

And the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released a 20-year plan, incorporating recommendations for the state, local government and private waste industry. The recommendations include elements that can be adopted by many entities to boost recycling participation.

“The study will determine what recyclable materials are best to target for end use and remanufacturing in Colorado," says Wolf Kray, environmental protection specialist with the Colorado department of public health and environment. "So that is one thing we are looking to address—understanding the materials to focus on and identifying industries we can draw in that would want to process those materials.” 

The project has involved talking to operators at material recovery facilities, waste and recycling brokers and figuring out which manufacturers may be interested in opening a processing facility.

Meanwhile, low tipping fees have discouraged municipalities from investing in recycling programs. When CDPHE last looked at fees a few years ago, the statewide average was about $30 a ton, though it varies.

In most of Colorado, hauling is done by private businesses with no municipality or county government involvement. There are no recycling mandates for residents; therefore, each resident calls the waste hauler unless there is a home owners association involved. With this concept, residents are on their own and pay an extra fee for service, says Kray.

CDPHE is currently developing a technical assistance program to help local governments and private business on waste diversion (recycling/composting) issues. There has been a focus on rural areas, where relatively small quantities may have to be collected and shipped a long distance.

“We are looking to improve services [statewide] by getting more discussion and involvement from local governments, where we have been part of the conversations,” says Kray. He cites Larimer County in northern Colorado as an example of focusing on specific jurisdictions, with officials there taking lead roles in addressing their issues. That county’s landfill will close in a few years and local government is starting a waste shed analysis to plan ahead.

“The Larimer County landfill is forecasted to reach capacity by 2025. There is no opportunity for further expansion at the current location,” says Honore Depew, environmental planner for the city of Fort Collins, where the site is located. “As we look to a future after the landfill closes, we are increasingly taking a regional approach to program and infrastructure development. We are working closely with our partners in multiple jurisdictions to plan for the shared future of recycling and materials management in our waste shed.”

Colorado Association for Recycling has worked to increase diversion for some time and has stepped up efforts to support the looming recycling and diversion targets.

“We are in the middle of drafting and finalizing our strategic plan for 2017 through 2020," says Laurie Johnson, executive director of the Colorado Association for Recycling. "Our goal is to focus on helping build infrastructure and end markets for materials in Colorado, serving as the lead agency to develop better collection and processing infrastructure and attract manufacturers.” 

The association opened a chapter in Colorado Springs in July, which is the second largest in the state. There will be a lot coming from that to advance recycling in that city, according to Johnson.

The plan is to open six local chapters over the next three years to address issues specific to those regions. The next area of focus is the western slope, a rural and underserved region.

Meanwhile, the 20-year state plan includes looking at what other states and cities have done. Resulting recommendations have stemmed from observations of Oregon’s work.

“Oregon diverts more than 40 percent of its waste, and it has similar demographics, with both large metropolitan areas and rural areas. So we are borrowing from their policies and plans as we continue working to improve,” says Kray.

TAGS: Recycling
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