More progress needed on Boulder’s path to zero waste

Boulder is a community that has long valued environmental sustainability and green living. Residents and employees alike have a long-standing commitment to taking care of the land, environment and community in which we work, live and play. As such, waste diversion is a community value throughout the city and Boulder County.

In fact, Boulder was one of the first cities to introduce both curbside recycling and composting for residents. Additionally, since the adoption of the first Zero Waste Strategic Plan by the City Council in 2006, the city has implemented programs, services and facilities with the goal of reaching 85 percent waste diversion — an internationally recognized milestone that defines a zero-waste community.

One of the most-recent initiatives implemented was the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance that went into effect in June 2016.  The city passed this ordinance in order to further reduce the amount of material sent to landfills and come closer to meeting the 85 percent waste-diversion goal. In an effort to expand recycling and composting to all Boulder residents, businesses and visitors, the ordinance requires all properties in the city to subscribe to trash, recycle and compost service.  More information on this ordinance and its requirements can be located at www.zerowasteboulder.com.

While it is too early to judge the impact of the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, increases in diversion have been steady since the original 2006 Plan was approved. Communitywide waste diversion, including single-family residential, multi-family residential and commercial properties, has increased from 30 percent to 39 percent in the 10 years between 2004 and 2015, while Boulder County has seen their diversion rates increase to 42 percent over the same time period.

However, Boulder is constantly looking to improve as other cities appear to be much further along the road to becoming zero-waste communities. According to the most recent stats compiled by the city of Boulder and Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG), there are other cities across the United States, including San Francisco, Portland, Fresno, and Austin, that are outpacing Boulder.  Boulder is trying to understand both the activities implemented in these communities to increase diversion as well as the tracking methodology used to ensure that all diversion efforts are tracked.

Boulder has placed such focus on diversion because recycling and composting waste unlock both serious environmental and economic value. While recycling and composting every day may seem like an insignificant step, the mounting benefits to the climate are quite significant.  According to a fact sheet from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans recycled and composted more than 87 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2013. This provides “an annual reduction of more than 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, comparable to removing the emissions from over 39 million passenger vehicles from the road in one year.”

In terms of economic value, in Colorado alone, we bury an estimated $170 million worth of valuable resources like cardboard, aluminum and scrap metal in landfills each year. By burying our waste, the state misses out on great opportunities to create green jobs and businesses.

Obviously, there is still significant progress to be made. While Boulder’s recycling and compost rate is more than three times the state average of 12 percent — we can still do better. As Boulder continues to grow, we must continue to increase our waste-diversion efforts.  We all have a part to play; residents, businesses, government and haulers alike.

We must shift our behavior in order to build a zero-waste community that helps meet new sustainability goals and invests in the future of our community and our local economy. By simply being thoughtful about what we consume, practical about what we discard and working together to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost as much as possible, we can work together to make a powerful, immediate and lasting impact.

Kevin Afflerbaugh is environmental coordinator for Western Disposal Services Inc. He can be reached at 303-448-2332 or kafflerbaugh@westerndisposal.com.