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May 2015 • Online Edition

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Regardless Of Reduced Revenue, Recycling Rolls On, But At A Price | Print |  E-mail

by J. Patrick O’Leary

In the face of financial challenges, Denver is doing its darndest to keep compostable garbage, grass clippings and hazardous materials out of its landfill. Rather than throw in the towel, the city is charging fees for some programs and publicizing no- or low-cost practices to conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Denver Recycles continued to run its curbside composting collection pilot program last year, thanks to grant money received after the program came to an end. Originally, 3,000 households in select neighborhoods volunteered to collect and put out their food scraps, soiled paper and yard debris – 100 percent compostable -- which was picked up weekly and trucked out to A-1 Organics in Keensburg for composting.
Organic material makes up most of what Denverites toss, and the program diverted 1,800 tons of compostable material from the landfill since the pilot program started in October 2008, according to Charlotte Pitt, Recycling Program Manager at Denver Recycles. That not only saved space, but reduced the amount of methane released into the atmosphere; organic matter that decomposes in a landfill produces the potent greenhouse gas.
When the grant money for the program ran out, Denver Recycles chose to continue the environmentally healthy program this spring by charging a nominal amount ($58.50 for six months) for continued service. But participation declined with the change.
“Almost half paid for the service right away,” says Pitt. “This is about what we expected because, as with any new pilot, lots of people opt in and then lose enthusiasm, or move and turn (green composting) carts over to other neighbors.” At least 100 participants were lost because service wasn’t transferred with the cart.
So, Denver Recycles is recruiting new participants in those original neighborhoods. At press time, there was space in all but two on the very west of Denver, according to Pitt. Denver Recycles will accept sign-ups through July until the program is filled. Residents can check for eligibility by visiting www.DenverGov.org/DenverRecycles and clicking on the “Denver Composts!” link – it has an online database that is searchable by address.

Only a limited number of households can participate in the curbside program, but anyone can do their own backyard composting. To encourage that, Denver Recycles and Denver Urban Gardens are continuing to offer weekly, hands-on composting classes – including “vermiposting” with worms – through the summer and into fall at Gove Community Garden, E. 13th Ave. and Colorado Blvd. Classes are free, but space is limited – July’s offerings were booked solid at press time. Click on “Free Learn to Compost Classes” on the website to see what’s available in the future, and sign up.
GrassCycling continues in the face of budget cutbacks, simply because it’s free and easy. It’s simply a catchy word for the green practice of leaving grass clippings on the lawn when mowing, instead of bagging them for collection. Up to 37 percent of what Denver residents put in the trash during the growing season is yard waste, primarily grass clippings. Not only does GrassCycling free up landfill space and reduce hauling costs, it returns nutrients to the soil and shades the roots and soil, reducing the amount of water needed by a lawn. Details and mowing recommendations can be found at the website as well, on the “GrassCycle” link.
Household hazardous waste (HHW) can sometimes be recycled, but should always be kept out of the landfill. To that end, the city restarted its door-to-door collection and drop-off program, which was shut down last fall when its budget was exhausted. The door-to-door program is limited to Denver Solid Waste Management customers, residing in a single family home, townhome, or apartment building of seven units or fewer, and can only be used once a year. Residents make a phone call to schedule a pickup date, then receive a disposal kit and instructions in the mail.
To stretch the budget this year, the city has changed the rules to “more efficiently use” its funds: A $20 co-pay is charged, and there are minimum weight requirements and waste type requirements. If the weight and content guidelines aren’t met, the resident pays the whole disposal fee of $90-114. Other materials (antifreeze, motor oil, car batteries, latex paint and CFL bulbs) are being directed to free retail disposal sites.
“The stricter requirement on materials is an attempt to drive people to use free drop site options for some of the easier to recycle materials first, before using the HHW program,” Pitt explains. “Again, another attempt to stretch dollars to service more residents.”
For detailed information on what the city can and cannot collect, do-it-yourself options, procedures and fees, click on the “Hazardous Waste” link on the website.
Curbside recycling is still offered to eligible residents at no charge; click on the “Residential Recycling Services” link for details. 

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