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Durango is a top recycler, but Colorado lags

State recycled and composted only 15.3% of its waste in 2020
Mark Lescallette drops off his recycling in 2019 at the Durango Recycle Center. The city of Durango diverted 32% of its waste from landfills through its recycling and composting programs in 2020, in line with the national average. Durango’s waste diversion rate is more than double the statewide average of 15.3%. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Durango is once again among the top recyclers in Colorado.

Durango and Aspen tied for the best citywide recycling and composting programs in greater Colorado for the second year in a row with a waste diversion rate of 32% in 2020, according to Eco-Cycle Inc. and the CoPirg Foundation’s State of Recycling & Composting in Colorado report.

It’s the third consecutive year that Durango has led the rankings, though the city’s recycling and composting rate decreased from 33% in 2018 and 2019.

“The success of the city’s recycling program is also due to the diligence of residents who prioritize waste reduction and follow guidelines on what can and cannot be recycled,” Durango recycle and solid waste manager Joey Medina said in a news release. “Durango would not be a recycling leader without the community’s commitment to helping keep waste out of the landfills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to the report, Durango’s waste diversion rate is more than double the statewide average of 15.3% and on par with the national recycling average of 32%.

Medina attributed much of Durango’s sustained waste diversion to the city’s informational efforts demystifying recycling and composting for residents.

“What makes the program so successful is the robust outreach and education program that we've put together for city residents and commercial businesses,” he said.

Free 24/7 glass recycling at the Durango Recycle Center, the city’s electronic waste diversion program and municipal single-stream recycling, in which recyclables are collected together and then sorted at a materials recovery facility, also help Durango reduce about a third of its waste, he said.

The state’s leading recyclers shared five best practices, according to the report.

All had universal curbside recycling, volume-based pricing for trash, convenient drop-off centers or curbside pickup for yard debris, effective educational programs, and staff members and funding dedicated to waste diversion efforts.

Statewide, Colorado continues to fall short of its recycling goals.

Coloradans recycled and composted only 15.3% of their waste in 2020, less than half of the national waste diversion rate and off pace from the state’s 2021 goal of 28%.

Only 9% of plastic containers and packaging were recycled across the state, and Coloradans added more than 5.9 million tons of waste to landfills in 2020.

If Colorado misses its 2021 goal, the state will contribute an additional 900,000 tons of waste to its landfills, according to the report.

“Colorado is failing to meet its recycling and composting goals and remains one of the 20 most wasteful states,” authors Rachel Setzke, Kate Bailey and Danny Katz said in the report.

The state continues to lag behind national targets and will not meet the nationwide goal of 50% waste diversion by 2030 at the current rate.

“Colorado is not making any true gains to reduce waste and recover more resources, and is just barely keeping pace with the state’s growing population,” the authors said.

Durango’s recycling and composting rate has remained stagnant over the last few years, which Medina said is in part because of the difficulties of recycling in rural communities.

“The problem is we’re in such a remote community,” he said. “We don’t have accessibility to a big materials recovery facility nearby.”

“We collect our material, we process it and we send it out to a vendor (in Albuquerque),” Medina said. “A lot of the bigger communities, the trucks are able to go drop directly at a materials recovery facility. They’re not having to bail it up and send it out to a vendor to have it reseparated and marketed.”

Still, the Front Range’s 2020 waste diversion rate of 16.2% was well below its 2021 goal, while greater Colorado has already reached its 2021 target of 10%.

Medina said the city plans to continue increasing its waste diversion a few percentage points at a time.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “I think we still have a ways to go over the next few years.”


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