By The Denver Post Editorial BoardPOSTED: 07/14/2007 01:00:00 AM MDT1 COMMENT
Denver's obvious enthusiasm for its new curbside recycling program is good news, indeed.
In 2006, city residents recycled enough paper to save 212,000 trees and enough steel to build 53 steel- framed houses.
Denverites, it seems, have made a real effort to fill their 65-gallon, wheeled purple bins with stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill. About 44 percent of eligible residents - those in single-family homes or small, multi-unit buildings - have signed up for the program.
While it's off to a good start, both Denver and the state of Colorado have a long way to go.
Last year, Denver recycled only 10 percent of its municipal waste stream. That's less than Colorado as a whole, which recycled only 12.5 percent of its waste, according to a study by Columbia University and BioCycle, a magazine that has been reporting on recycling for 47 years.
Colorado's recycling efforts rank it the 12th worst in the nation, which is abysmal for a state where conservation and environmental protection are such high public priorities.
In contrast, Oregon recycled nearly 46 percent of its waste and Minnesota, more than 43 percent.
Charlotte Pitt, Denver's recycling program manager, said Colorado's low recycling rate reflects a lack of government recycling mandates, lots of space for landfills and the low cost of constructing them. Landfills are cheap to build here because of high clay levels in the state's soil, which provide natural liners.
Given these built-in disincentives, we were glad to see the legislature pass a bill last session that raises dump fees on used tires to provide grants and loans for recycling programs.
Increasing recycling is good public policy for many reasons. It extends the life of landfills, conserves natural resources, creates jobs and diverts from landfills paper and cardboard that would otherwise decompose and produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Beyond Denver's recent efforts, other Colorado cities have successful recycling programs including Boulder, Fort Collins and Loveland, which diverts more than 50 percent of its municipal waste from landfills.
Nationally, the recycling rate is less than 30 percent, a rate that grew significantly through the 1980s and stalled about a decade ago. Recently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency keep better tabs on recycling efforts, since the EPA, surprisingly enough, does not keep state-by-state recycling rates.
The report also identified key practices that boosted resident participation in recycling programs, including making it more convenient, offering financial incentives (such as lowering garbage rates for recyclers), and educating the public.
In Denver, city officials hope to introduce other programs that would capture organic materials and waste from large, multifamily buildings. By 2011, the city hopes to divert 30 percent of the waste stream away from landfills.
It's a laudable goal. We hope that Denver's successful start, along with new state incentives, will encourage other Colorado cities to develop their own programs.