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Colorado’s dismal recycling record needs a response

 

By Lisa Cutter and Kevin Priola

Guest Commentary

The news isn’t good when it comes to recycling and composting in Colorado.

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) and Eco-cycle released their yearly State of Recycling and Composting report a few weeks ago and it turns out we are not the green state we like to think we are, and we are moving in the wrong direction.

Colorado’s statewide recycling and composting rate is a dismal 15%, less than half the national rate of 32%, and behind our state goal to reach 28% by 2021.

Our recycling rate for plastics was even worse than our overall rate — only 9% of plastic containers and plastic packaging is recycled statewide. On average, Colorado residents recycle and compost only 1 pound per person per day, while residents in leading states like Oregon and Washington recycle 3.1 pounds per person per day.

There is widespread support for recycling as seen through municipal surveys in Colorado. Despite this, Colorado continues to lack the recycling services needed, and our patchwork system has left people confused about what — or how — to recycle. Statewide recycling can be an important economic driver for Colorado, creating jobs and improving trade imbalances with foreign nations.

Now is the time for a systemwide solution to modernize and transform Colorado’s recycling and composting systems. A “producer responsibility” policy for containers, packaging and printed paper is a game-changing policy that can be adopted in 2022.

This legislative session we will introduce a bipartisan producer responsibility policy to fundamentally revamp and expand recycling in Colorado, eliminate unnecessary and wasteful packaging, and reduce plastic pollution and carbon emissions. This policy will continue to allow municipalities to choose how they engage in recycling. It will ensure that every Coloradan — urban and rural, living in a single-family home or apartment complex — has access to recycling that is as convenient as their trash service and includes the most readily recyclable materials, such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, newspaper and other printed paper.

A producer responsibility policy will have producers pay for the end-of-life management of containers and packaging materials they put on Colorado markets based on the type of material and its environmental impact. The sustainable funding generated from such a program will increase recycling availability. And it will boost local economies. Recycling creates nine times more jobs than landfills and this policy will help attract more businesses to Colorado to use our recycled materials to make new products.

In general, this policy will encourage companies to use less packaging overall and to choose more recyclable, less toxic packaging formats.

Over 40 countries have mandatory producer responsibility policies for containers and packaging materials, and Maine and Oregon adopted the first U.S. policies in 2021. Colorado’s producer responsibility program for paint, PaintCare Colorado, has been in place since 2015. The program has resulted in over 4 million gallons of recycled paint and tens of thousands of dollars of savings to local governments from paint collection services.

Companies around the world are making bold commitments to use more recycled content in their products and to support recycling, such as the Every Bottle Back initiative by US beverage companies. This is just good business. According to the 2021 Global Green Buying Report, 67% of consumers consider themselves environmentally aware and concerned with sustainability, and 83% of consumers among younger generations showed a willingness to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Recycling and using less are two simple steps we can all take every day to reduce climate pollution, protect our clean air and water, and support healthy ecosystems.

We have the power to align our image of a green Colorado with reality. Let’s make it happen. Lisa Cutter of Littleton represents House District 25, including the mountains of Jefferson County. Kevin Priola is state senator from Henderson who represents Senate District 25 in Adams County.

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