Apr 30, 2021 | NEWS | By Brigitte Arcoite | Photo by Aida Hasson
As a zero-waste volunteer for the Colorado College Office of Sustainability, Lila Galikin ’23 asserts her commitment to waste management in her consistent effort to sort through waste bins when she notices that something is misplaced.
It seems the entire state of Colorado needs a recycling reboot.
Despite goals to increase the statewide waste-diversion rate to the national average of 32% by 2026, the rate has decreased from 17% in 2018 to 16% in 2019.
Researchers estimate that Colorado Springs performed even worse, with a diversion rate of 13% this past year. Unfortunately, it is only expected to decrease further as a result of the pandemic stay-at-home measures.
Further complicating the state-level statistic, different counties, cities, and districts within Colorado vary in their approach to the recycling process.
“None of [the recycling facilities] are coordinating and there is no one standard process right now because each facility has different capabilities,” Galinkin said. In other words, “you may understand it in one place but not another.”
Because different facilities are following different protocols and accepting different materials, it is hard to be sure what your local recycling or compost center can accommodate.
Similarly, Galikin noted that single-stream recycling — where metals, papers, and glass are all accepted in one bin — can pose problems when it comes to salvageability.
While this process makes the consumer-end easier, often it can be more expensive and less effective. For example, most facilities can’t recycle paper when it is wet or soiled with food, so if someone does not clean out their containers or dry them properly, much of the bin can become contaminated.
That being said, most cities in Colorado face a larger problem. While some Colorado locals and many out-of-state students are privileged to have free curbside recycling programs, a majority of Coloradans do not.
Instead, they must either pay for a city or private curbside pickup service or drop their waste off at a recycling center. Many individuals choose not to recycle instead.
Some policymakers believe that the individual consumer shouldn’t be burdened with the cost of recycling. A number of state bills and proposed models seek to change this reality.
Under the extended producer responsibility model (EPR), the company that makes or uses recycled materials in their products would pay for the cost of a recycling system. Senate Bill 180 seeks to implement this model by creating “an enterprise that would finance programs encouraging higher recycling rates, with funds generated by fees on food service packaging,” as described in the Colorado Sun. It would also seek to study a mandate on post-consumer recycled plastic.
Another option is described as the “pay as you throw” model, which has taken off in Arvada. This would charge residents to pay a monthly fee that rises as trash bin size increases, thus incentivizing consumers to reduce their waste in order to save money.
“I think the most important thing is getting in contact with the facility you are using or someone who knows about it so you can do your part and properly recycle the waste,” Galinkin said. “It may not seem like everything that’s recycled matters, but if everyone has that attitude, it really doesn’t matter.”
Regardless of the programs Colorado decides to adopt to increase waste-diversion rates, Galinkin said, “the ultimate goal should not be recycling.” Students should be educated on reducing their overall waste in the first place, whether that be through compostables, recyclables, or single-use items.
“In my opinion the students at CC can continue to voice their concerns with the faculty and staff as well as keeping their dedication to proper recycling practices,” said Scott Slaughterbeck, CC Waste and Pest Management Specialist.
“Ensuring proper separation at the point of the consumer and continually educating others is paramount to a successful sustainability program,” Galinkin said, “but there’s more, more to be done, always more.”