The Three Rs: Highlights from across Colorado

Highlights from our 7th annual State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado Report!

Colorado is poised for breakthroughs in waste reduction, despite a low recycling rate.

Coloradans throw away roughly 5.6 pounds of materials per person per day—and about 85% of that ends up in landfills. Colorado’s recycling rate stubbornly remains one of the worst in the country, mostly due to a lack of access to recycling services, especially at apartment buildings, businesses, and in rural areas.

On November 15, 2023, in celebration of America Recycles Day and Colorado Recycles Week,  Eco-Cycle and CoPIRG just released our 7th annual State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado Report, which examines the progress made by the state and Colorado communities in recycling and composting. While Colorado continues to have a low recycling rate of just 16%, the state is on the verge of significant progress toward reducing waste!

This year’s report not only examines recycling and composting challenges and successes, but also includes “the three Rs”—reduce, reuse, and recycle—and ways the state, local communities, and entrepreneurial businesses are leading the way toward less waste and fostering a circular economy for Colorado. 

Examples of innovative ways Coloradans are reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting across the state, forging new pathways toward a Zero Waste future, include:


  • The Colorado Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, successfully championed by Eco-Cycle, required a 2023 statewide fee on single-use checkout bags that is estimated to reduce between 1.5 and 1.8 billion single-use checkout bags annually. Phase two, starting January 2024, will ban polystyrene take-out food containers and single-use plastic checkout bags altogether.
  • Aspen city officials reported an 80–90% reduction in straws used at restaurants that switched from automatically giving people straws to waiting for a customer to ask.
  • Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) has adopted food waste reduction practices in district food preparation kitchens.


  • Two emerging reusable food serviceware businesses operating in Colorado, r.World and DeliverZero, replace disposable take-out containers with washable, reusable delivery containers, avoiding more than 13,000 pounds of waste to landfills, saving over 325,000 gallons of water, and preventing over 46,000 kgCO2e of greenhouse emissions.
  • Denver launched an incentive program funding 35 local food establishments to switch to reusable serviceware for on-site dining, and is offering up to $2,500 to help permitted events transition to reusable cups.
  • Colorado is the only state that has adopted two Right to Repair policies—one for powered wheelchairs and one for agricultural equipment.


  • Colorado was the third state to adopt a nation-leading Producer Responsibility policy, co-written by Eco-Cycle, requiring producers of paper and packaging (cans, jars, boxes, etc.) who sell these products in the state to fund recycling services for all Colorado residents starting in 2026.
  • Colorado also adopted a nation-leading “Truth in Compostable Labeling” bill (SB23-253) to reduce contamination in compost streams by clarifying labeling of certified compostable and look-alike “compostable” packaging, championed by Eco-Cycle in spring 2023.

Read more about groundbreaking actions that the state, local communities, and businesses are taking in our 2023 State of Recycling & Composting Report (find the executive summary here).