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Denver has a new plan to double its recycling rate. It includes a fee on trash cans.

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A recycling bin provided by the City and County of Denver.
Credit: Alexis Kikoen, Rocky Mountain PBS

DENVER — By the time 2027 rolls around, Denver wants to have doubled its rate of recycling and composting.

According to a Sustainable Resource Management Plan issued April 19, the city aims to “divert 50 percent of all solid waste away from the landfill and to recycling or composting by 2027 and to increase that rate to 70 percent by 2032.”

Diversion rates explain the amount of waste that is diverted away from landfills. Denver’s goal of a 50% diversion rate would reduce the same amount of emissions that getting 600,000 cars off the road would, the city said in a news release.

“Through focused efforts over the last ten years, Denver has been able to increase its diversion rate from 13 percent in 2010 to 26 percent in 2020,” said Denver’s Chief Climate Officer Grace Rink in a news release. “While we have made progress, this rate has remained stagnant and falls well below the national average of 34 percent. Reaching a higher diversion rate will require new strategies, and this plan will get us there.”

You can read the full plan here.

The city hopes that a new proposal championed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) will help achieve the goal of a 50% diversion rate. If approved, DOTI’s proposal would provide weekly recycling and composting services for all customers. Currently, the city collects recycling every two weeks, but said residents have been requesting weekly services “for several years.”

DOTI would cover the cost of the expanded services by charging a fee based on trash volume. The fee would be determined by the size of the customers’ trash can. The smaller the trash can, the smaller the fee. The city hopes this will “encourage customers to put more waste in their recycling and compost carts and reduce what they put in their trash cart.”

The proposed fee structure, according to the city, is “lower than any other municipality in the Denver metro area.” Small cans would be $9/month. Medium and large cans would be $13 and $21, respectively. “An affordability index, a sliding scale based on income and household size, would instantly rebate up to 100% of the cost for residents who may be disproportionately burdened by a fee,” the city said.

Recycling and compost bins, meanwhile, would be provided free of charge.

Denver has implemented multiple waste-reduction plans in the last year. In July of 2021, Denver started the “Bring Your Own Bag” ordinance, which added a $0.10 fee for any plastic or paper bags customers used at places like grocery stores. Then, in January of this year, Denver City Council approved an ordinance that made it so restaurants and third-party delivery services (e.g. Postmates and Uber Eats) can only provide single-use items like utensils and condiments if a customer explicitly asks for them.

At a state level, Colorado’s waste diversion rate is dismal. For the past five years, the nonprofit recycling organization Eco-Cycle and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, or CoPIRG, have compiled an annual report: The State of Recycling & Composting in Colorado.

“So, we've really been looking in depth at: how are we doing in recycling, what's working, where are the challenges, and what are the opportunities?” said Kate Bailey, the policy and research director at Eco-Cycle.

In 2020, the organizations found that Colorado’s recycling and composting rate was 15.3% in 2020. The national average is 32%.

“We are absolutely falling behind,” Bailey told Rocky Mountain PBS.

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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