Aspen’s to-go container composting program ending

City didn’t get much usage for to-go containers but saw a lot of personal compost use at Rio Grande Recycling Center

A composting container provides another sustainable option for waste disposal at the Rio Grande Recycling Center in Aspen on Monday, March 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The city of Aspen’s pilot program that offers a composting bin at the Rio Grande Recycling Center for to-go containers from area restaurants over the winter didn’t see the critical mass officials hoped for.

After two months in operation, the program will end April 9, said Liz Chapman, senior waste reduction and environmental health specialist for the city.

Preliminary data show that the bin has seen little use by people who had to-go containers, despite the usage being on the uptick because more consumers have been using takeout service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chapman said based on video footage and on-the ground observations, about two people a week were putting takeout containers into the bin.

But between five and 10 people a week were using the bin to dispose of their compost they’ve collected at home, which was filling the container with mostly food.

“We were aiming for folks who are visiting, or living outside of the city but work here,” Chapman said. “But we see people using the recycle center for personal use, mostly taking in food and the recycling center is not set up to take people’s food waste.”

Those who compost at home either collect it and take it to the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center for free, or pay their trash haulers to pick it up.

So, the city’s recycling center became a convenient alternative for residential composters, and an unintended consequence of the restaurant to-go container program.

“It shows that there’s a significant amount of people who are composting,” Chapman said.

That’s good news to Mayor Torre, who is pushing to expand the city’s compost program for businesses and residents as part of the city’s waste diversion program.

“That’s a signal and sign that there are people out there who want to compost,” he said.

How the city can support more of that environmental action is a question for Aspen City Council in near-future conversations.

Chapman said it would require significant investment and consideration of where a composting site could be located.

It’s not suitable at the recycling center because food waste creates a stench and attracts bears.

Chapman said she will be presenting data from the pilot program and possible options for council to consider in the next month or two.

“There is some interest on council, and they are waiting on me,” she said.

The city’s environmental health department and waste reduction program has finite funds, she noted.

How the city pays for future composting is a question for council.

Torre said there are a lot of things to consider, including incentive programs and working with the county.

Perhaps more importantly, composting is a tool to make people aware of their consumption and make changes in their habits.

“We believe that 40 percent of the waste that goes into the landfill is compostable,” Torre said, adding that he pays a monthly fee to have a hauler pick up his compost. “I empty my garbage once a month. … My profile fits that 40 percent.”


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