Creating Systemic Change Through Statewide Policy
While some communities, such as Boulder County, are Zero Waste leaders, Colorado recycles and composts only 16% of its waste—just half the national average of 32%. Colorado is challenged by economics: Landfilling waste here is cheap. We also lack industries that reuse and remanufacture discards into new products. And until recently, we haven’t had strong Zero Waste support or leadership at the state level.
To significantly increase Colorado’s waste diversion, we need to change the system. We need to make recycling, composting, and other Zero Waste solutions more accessible and convenient to everyone, regardless of where you live. We think the best way to achieve this is by adopting state policies that improve Zero Waste infrastructure, services, and programs, and help develop recycling end markets.
Over the past eight years, we have worked with partners like Recycle Colorado, Conservation Colorado, Environment Colorado, Colorado Public Interest Research Group, and the Sierra Club to educate state legislators and the state executive branch on Zero Waste issues and urge them to take action. We have engaged a growing cadre of Coloradans, tapping into their desire to improve recycling rates and become more sustainable. This work is paying off—while we still have more to do, we have made some significant progress!
Recent Statewide Victories
The Compostable Product Labeling Bill (Senate Bill 23-253)
UPDATE: On May 2, 2023, the Colorado State House of Representatives voted 47 to 18 to pass SB23-253! The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
“Truly compostable packaging and bags can be useful tools to help divert food and plant scraps to become valuable compost. SB23-253 reinforces the good behavior of companies selling these materials and protects Colorado consumers from being tricked into buying confusingly labeled products that are not compostable and inadvertently contaminating the finished compost.” — Dan Matsch, Eco-Cycle Director of Compost & Carbon Farming
For every certified-compostable product you might come across, such as cups, cutlery, straws, and compostable bags, there are several more “look-alikes” that mislead consumers into thinking these items are compostable (using unregulated terms such as “biodegradable” or “plant-based”) when in truth, these plastic products do not break down in the commercial composting process, leading to contaminated compost. Currently, there is no legal standard in Colorado for compostable product labeling, allowing misleading or false labeling practices to confuse consumers, resulting in compost contamination. Senate Bill 23-253 would change that.
SB23-253 will prevent companies from misleading consumers with look-alike compostable products, creating a clear standard for labeling compostable products by:
- Requiring that products represented as compostable must be certified by a credible third party (such as BPI or CMA) and clearly labeled to be sold or marketed as compostable in the state of Colorado.
- Prohibiting producers of products that are not certified compostable from labeling, marketing, or advertising these products as compostable. They would also be prohibited from using labels, images, or words that could mislead the consumer into believing the product is compostable.
- Composters across Colorado agree that SB23-253 would help reduce contamination from non-compostable food service ware, and could open up the possibility of eventually accepting more compostable products.
The Organics Diversion Study Bill (Senate Bill 23-191)
UPDATE: On May 2, 2023, the Colorado State House of Representatives voted 46 to 19 to pass SB23-191! The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
“We’ve worked hard over the last few years to develop zero waste policies and infrastructure in Colorado, and our bills are a logical next step. Organics diversion and the creation of compost keeps methane-emitting materials out of the landfill, which is hugely beneficial in our efforts to mitigate climate change.” — Colorado State Senator, Lisa Cutter
Eco-Cycle, Recycle Colorado, and the Colorado Composting Council are advocating for SB23-191, which would direct the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to build on their 2022 Statewide Organics Management Plan, engage stakeholders, and make recommendations to:
- Invest in organic materials diversion and composting infrastructure statewide, and
- Develop policies to divert organic materials away from landfills and into beneficial uses, including feeding hungry people, feeding animals, and producing compost, mulch, and biochar (or diverting to anaerobic digestion).
Previous Statewide Victories
Producer Responsibility Program For Recycling (House Bill 22-1355)
This bill, written and championed by Eco-Cycle, passed the Colorado Legislature on May 11, 2022, making Colorado the first state in the country to create a fully producer-funded and operated statewide recycling system for all consumer-facing packaging and printed paper. This policy, when implemented, will provide free recycling service to all Colorado residents, reduce unnecessary packaging, and build more resilient domestic supply chains to ease supply chain disruptions for Colorado manufacturers.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lisa Cutter, Sen. Kevin Priola, and Sen. Julie Gonzales. Championed by Eco-Cycle, Recycle Colorado, and a broad coalition of national and state businesses, environmental advocates, residents, and over 65 Colorado communities— including dozens of rural communities who currently lack access to recycling programs, funding, and infrastructure—demonstrated the unquestionable support across the state for easier, more accessible recycling in Colorado.
HB22-1355 fundamentally transforms Colorado’s recycling system by requiring companies that sell printed paper, cardboard, metal, glass, and plastic packaging in the state to pay for a statewide recycling system. The system will be administered by a producer-run nonprofit, known as a Producer Responsibility Organization, that will collect and manage producer funds and reimburse public and private service providers for collecting and processing recyclables.
Of several states who introduced Producer Responsibility legislation in 2022, including New York and Hawaii, Colorado was the only state to adopt this innovative legislation, with our bill deemed a “national model for Producer Responsibility” by the American Beverage Association. Learn more about Colorado’s Producer Responsibility Policy at www.recyclingforallcoloradans.org.
For an overview of the policy and its benefits, see our fact sheet about HB22-1355: Producer Responsibility Program For Recycling.
Waste Diversion And Circular Economy Development Center (House Bill 22-1159)
House Bill 22-1159, which Eco-Cycle championed during the 2022 legislative session, was signed into law by Gov. Polis in June 2022. This bill will establish a Waste Diversion And Circular Economy Development Center in Colorado, with the goal of creating a more circular economy within the state where more local businesses make new products from locally recycled materials and return those materials back into our state’s economy. The Center will help Increase the demand for recycled materials by growing existing recycling and composting end markets in the state, while also creating new end markets by incentivizing Colorado businesses to use recycled materials in their production.
The benefits include a robust local source for essential materials for manufacturing, including paper, glass, metal, and plastics; less waste going to the landfill; reduced transportation costs and emissions; and local job creation.
Learn more about the bill in our fact sheet about HB22-1159: Waste Diversion And Circular Economy Development Center.
Plastic Pollution Reduction Act (House Bill 21-1162)
Plastic pollution isn’t just happening in the oceans. In Colorado, scientists have found plastic particles raining down on Rocky Mountain National Park and Front Range communities, while plastic bags are the largest source of litter found in creek clean-ups in Colorado. It is estimated that humans ingest on average a credit card’s worth of plastic every week.
To combat the growing plastic pollution problem, Eco-Cycle and partners helped draft and advocate for the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, which includes provisions to:
- charge a $0.10 fee on paper and plastic bags at grocery and large retail stores starting in 2023
- ban plastic carry-out bags at grocery and large retail stores starting in 2024
- ban polystyrene foam (“Styrofoam”) food and beverage containers at restaurants starting in 2024
- remove a preemption law, making Colorado the first state to strike a plastic preemption, restoring the rights of local communities to take further actions to reduce plastic pollution
The bill was signed into law July 6, 2021 by Governor Jared Polis. With the passage of this monumental bill, Colorado became the 11th US state to ban single-use plastic bags, and the 8th state to ban polystyrene food and beverage takeout containers.
Agricultural Soil Health Program (House Bill 21-1181)
After many decades of industrial agriculture, in many parts of Colorado, we are losing soil faster than it can replenish. Applying compost to agricultural and range lands not only can bring that soil back to life but also can sequester carbon, creating an important tool to combat climate change. Eco-Cycle is a champion for expanding the use of compost on our soils and advocated for the passage of the Soil Health Program which was signed into law on June 21, 2021. It creates a voluntary program for farmers and ranchers, providing aid to them in conserving and enhancing soils, including through the use of compost. The bill sets up demonstration sites around the state for farmers and ranchers to see firsthand the impacts of using soil health techniques, including the application of compost. The program creates new positions for soil health advisors, grant funding for farmers, and a peer incentive program.
Incentivize Development Recycling End Markets (Senate Bill 20-055)
Each year, Colorado buries nearly $100 million worth of recyclable material, including aluminum, cardboard, paper, glass, and plastic in our landfills—material that could instead be recycled in-state, creating local jobs and strengthening local economies. Recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing already contribute $8.7 billion to the Colorado economy annually, yet there is so much more economic opportunity we can realize by investing in more recycling opportunities and businesses locally. A key obstacle, however, is that Colorado lacks local recycling markets for most major recyclable materials, with nearly all of our paper, metal, and plastic shipped out of state or even out of the country before being made into new products.
To develop needed recycling end markets in Colorado, Eco-Cycle worked with Recycle Colorado and other state recyclers to lay the groundwork for a Recycling End Market Development Center, modeled after other successful states. Eco-Cycle testified before the state’s first-ever Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Committee and took legislators on tours of recycling facilities to learn more about the recycling market and its deficiencies in Colorado. Eco-Cycle helped legislators draft SB20-055, Incentivize Development Recycling End Markets, and lobbied for its successful passage.
On July 13, 2020, SB20-055 was signed into law. The new Recycling End Market Development Center will enhance Colorado’s recycling economy by attracting businesses and entrepreneurs to Colorado to use our recyclable materials to make new products in-state. Developing these end markets in Colorado will increase the demand for recycled materials, which in turn will raise the value of recyclables and make recycling more economically viable, resulting in more materials diverted from landfills.
Front Range Waste Diversion Enterprise Grant Program (Senate Bill 19-192)
When it comes to recycling and composting, Colorado has been a laggard for quite some time, with more than half of Colorado counties still lacking comprehensive curbside recycling programs. Realizing that most of the state’s waste is generated in the Front Range, Eco-Cycle proposed an increase in the tipping fee (the fee charged to dump waste at landfills) and for the collected funds to be used through grants to help local communities provide recycling, composting, and waste-reduction programs and services. Eco-Cycle worked with Recycle Colorado to turn this idea into a bill, and after intense negotiations, lobbying, and grassroots advocacy, the bill was passed and signed into law on May 30, 2019. The new law, known as The Front Range Waste Diversion Enterprise Grant Program, charges an additional $0.50 per ton of landfill waste each year for four years and then increases annually by inflation. It is estimated the fund will accrue over $10 million after the first four years. In its first two years of grant funding, the program has allocated over $3.4 million to 14 projects throughout the Front Range, which together are estimated to prevent 34,000 tons of waste from going to the landfill.