Denver’s slow rollout of curbside composting pickup is about to accelerate as the city makes the paid service available in most far-northeast neighborhoods and, by year’s end, nearly citywide.
The city is launching two new composting routes that primarily will serve Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, along with a few other pockets. That expansion comes as Denver’s Department of Public Works prepares to convert another 35, 000 homes to 95-gallon black carts for trash pickup. Those deliveries will end a four-year phase-out of alley Dumpsters and customer-owned barrels so that all homes are on a uniform system.
Public Works also will drop off thousands more purple recycling carts at households that haven’t opted in for that free add-on service, part of a multi-year effort to nudge them into separating out plastics, glass and paper.
Denver last year notched a 20 percent diversion rate for recyclables and biodegradable waste, such as leftover food, that customers placed in separate bins, according to the city’s Solid Waste Management. The diversion rate increased from 16 percent in the past two years, but it’s still far short of the 34 percent goal set by city officials for 2020 — and is much lower than the rates of several other Front Range cities.
“We’re seeing slow but sure growth, ” Public Works spokeswoman Heather Burke said.
The Denver City Council on Monday approved a $2.2 million purchase order with manufacturer Toter for 45, 178 residential trash, recycling and compost carts.
Though such initiatives are likely to increase the trash diversion rate, critics including the Colorado Public Interest Research Group have pointed to other cities, including Seattle, that have had success with more aggressive waste-management approaches. Such policies include volume-based trash service pricing and requiring that residents use curbside composting, with no extra fee.
2 new composting routes, with 4 more on deck
After launching two new composting pickup routes in coming weeks, the city plans to roll out four more in the fall, after new trucks are delivered. The council had pushed for more routes during last year’s budget discussions.
“We have not routed these trucks yet but we are expecting to be able to offer service to almost all of the remaining areas of the city, ” said Charlotte Pitt, the manager of Denver Recycles.
She said her department recently mailed postcards to residents in the areas that will be served by the two latest routes to notify them they now are eligible to subscribe. For a fee of $29.25 every three months, city trucks will pick up food scraps, yard waste, soiled paper and other organic material that can be composted.
But Denver has faced low subscribership along its five existing compost pickup routes, with only about 10, 000 (12.5 percent) signing up. Even after 11 routes are in place this fall, serving 160, 000 households — twice the number currently eligible — Public Works projects that subscriptions will increase to just 20, 000.
This week’s cart order included 3, 108 green composting carts. Eventually, city officials hope to wrap composting pickup into the city taxes that pay for trash and recycling, but that is a budget question has not yet been answered.
Finishing trash cart conversion
Ultimately, the city’s solid waste plan calls for every household served by Denver Public Works — including single-family homes and multifamily buildings with up to seven units — to have three carts to make separation of their waste easy.
While it expands access to composting and works to get more households to recycle, Public Works since 2014 has been on a drive to remove alley Dumpsters, which sometimes attract illegal dumping, and get all homes to use the same large black bins.
Crews will deliver carts in three phases — to remaining southeast pockets in April, to near-downtown, central and northwest neighborhoods in July and August, and to east Denver homes in September. The city recently mailed postcards notifying affected households of the coming change.
Burke said areas that the city converted to the carts previously have seen an increase in recycling rates, possibly because of the smaller size of the carts and because customers typically keep the two carts together.
A modest boost for recycling
Denver long has treated curbside recycling as an opt-in service. But Pitt said pilot projects convinced Public Works officials that households that haven’t signed up often will make use of the purple carts if they’re dropped off.
City crews began doing that last year for the 18 percent of trash customers that haven’t asked for recycling pickup.
“We will be doing automatic delivery again this year in the areas getting trash carts and expect to deliver about 6, 500 recycling carts” in July, Pitt wrote in an e-mail. “After this year, we’ll have about 24, 000 homes that still need recycling carts, and we will take a year or two to get those out to homes.”