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Colorado’s recycling rate far below the national average

Proposed bills aim to address issue

Groups like Auraria Sustainable Campus Program are working to help students go green.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry

Despite the vast amount of recycling containers dotting the Auraria campus, Colorado’s overall recycling habits are surprisingly lackluster. According to a 2019 study released by government officials, Colorado’s recycling rate was only 17.2 percent in 2018, well below the goal of 28 percent by 2021. The national average recycling rate is a staggering 35 percent, which means Colorado recycles at less than half the national rate. Coloradans create 5.6 pounds of waste every day, but only 1.2 pounds are recycled. By comparison, residents of Oregon recycle 3.1 pounds of their 4.2 pounds of total generated waste.  

Colorado’s low recycling rate inspired local lawmakers to take action. The Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Study Committee, led by Rep. Lisa Cutter from Evergreen, has advanced two bill concepts that would change how Colorado recycles. 

While neither of these bills pose a concrete solution, both reflect months of deliberation and aim to expand the data on recycling in the state. One bill calls for further study on how tax breaks will incentivize companies to aid in converting recycled materials, while the other would require the state to plan for statewide composting management.  

 Recycling is not as easy as just converting recyclable materials. Much of our recycled material is sent overseas for processing and converting. Until recently, China received most of America’s recycled paper and plastic, but that practice ended in March of this year. 

In addition, recycling is not always convenient or accessible to Colorado residents. In much of the state, recycling companies require payment from their users, and the Denver compost program costs $29.99 each quarter.  

 Improving recycling on campus has been a consistent goal for Students for Sustainability and Conservation (SSC), an ad hoc club on campus. According to Michaela Butler, the president of SSC, recycling has only been available on campus for a few years. As the initial $1 fee increased, the Auraria Sustainable Campus Program (ASCP) was formed to help the campus go green. 

Right now, Butler is working with the CU Denver Student Government Association and ASCP to create a referendum that would put composting areas in all shared buildings on campus, which would be voted on by students next semester. SSC is working on a similar plan to put composting in all CU Denver buildings.  

 “Our ultimate goal is to make sure that we have compost in every single building on campus. That would require all institutions and AHEC to cooperate. But, at the very least, we want it in all CU Denver buildings if our spring 2020 referendum doesn’t pass,” Butler said.  

 SSC is also working to change campus landscaping policies, plastic reduction policies and improving campus bike lanes. Should the bills proposed by the Zero Waste and Recycling Interim Study Committee pass at the state level, recycling programs like the one on campus will become more accessible.  

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