Colorado’s Dirty Little Secret

12:04 PM, Mar 18, 2021
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Colorado ranks high as a desirable place to live — beautiful mountains, limitless opportunities for recreation and play, and a vibrant economy.

Since Colorado excels in so many ways, it’s surprising for many to discover how poorly we rank at recycling. Our dirty little secret is our trash. Colorado’s recycling rate lags far behind other states — at 15.9% compared to the national average of 32%.

Other states’ recycling rates are double or triple that of Colorado. Minnesota, which is comparable in population, had a 33.9% recycling rate in 2018. Oregon’s rate was 40.8% in 2018.

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In 2018 alone, Coloradans who recycled saved 1.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent to removing over 400,000 cars from the road annually. Our efforts also boosted the local and state economy with nearly $195 million in total wages earned from recycling and composting.

Clearly, we have some work to do. It’s not just bragging rights on the line; far more important, by recycling more, we can create more jobs here in Colorado and further protect Colorado’s outdoor and wild places.

The benefits of recycling are huge. In 2018 alone, Coloradans who recycled saved 1.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent to removing over 400,000 cars from the road annually. Our efforts also boosted the local and state economy with nearly $195 million in total wages earned from recycling and composting.

Each day, the average Coloradan generates 5.6 pounds of trash, of which 1.2 pounds is recycled. Our ability to boost the recycling rate comes down to the choices we are willing to make. Here are three easy ways to get started on the road to recycling:

  • Keep glass out of landfills. Glass food and drink containers are 100% recyclable, meaning they can be recycled over and over indefinitely with little loss of material. Your used glass can live on for many years in many useful ways, so rinse it and toss it in the recycling bin every time.
  • Capture your cardboard. It’s one of the easiest materials to recycle and is widely accepted at recycling centers across the state. And it doesn’t require any special effort from you to recycle. Just flatten the boxes before putting them in the bin or taking them to a local recycling center.
  • Aluminum can be recycled over and over. Aluminum foil is just as recyclable as aluminum cans as long as it’s clean, free of food residue, and is bigger than the palm of your hand. Be sure to rinse your cans first and check with your local recycling center for any special requirements.

For your effort to have the biggest impact, it’s important to recycle right:

  • Don’t bag it. Bagging recyclables makes things difficult at the sorting facility -- especially because these bags aren’t recyclable in most communities. Keep your recyclables loose.
  • Clean it first. Putting just one food-crusted container into the recycle bin can contaminate the entire load. So, remember to empty, clean and dry your containers first.
  • Don’t be a wish-cycler. With good intentions, you might be tossing your empty potato chip bags, squeezable food pouches or frozen veggie packaging into the recycling bin, hoping they can be recycled. From paper towels to straws, items that seem recyclable — but aren’t — can contaminate an entire load, forcing it all to go to the landfill. Check with your local recycler to see what's accepted in your area.

A little recycling effort can go a long way. By doing so, not only can we boost our state’s recycling rate, but we can help our environment and create jobs for Coloradans.

Take the recycling pledge to help Erase the Waste in Colorado: Go to www.erasethewasteco.com/

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