Can organic waste make for a sweet deal? |

Can organic waste make for a sweet deal?

Aspen City Council steps toward reducing compost headed to landfill

Doug Oliver moves piles of compost around at the Pitkin County landfill with a bulldozer. Aspen's new ordinance aims to substantially reduce the compost that goes to the landfill.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council, adorned with red lapel flowers, made a Valentine’s Day arrangement Tuesday with Mother Earth, unanimously agreeing on an ordinance aimed at substantially reducing the amount of organic waste bound for the landfill.

This is the most influential action taken by the city to reduce Aspen’s municipal solid waste buried in the Pitkin County Landfill, officials said. The ordinance would decrease Aspen’s contribution to climate change through a reduction in the landfill disposal of recoverable resources, such as food. The ordinance would go into effect after a second reading of the ordinance and vote scheduled for Feb. 28.

“Our company is the largest private organization in Colorado solely dedicated to collecting compostable from homes, business, and events, while educating participants on best waste-reduction practices,” said David Reindel, co-founder of EverGreen ZeroWaste, which will lead that effort.

“We’re ready and eager to do this. We do this all day, every day, and we’ve been planning on this for a coon’s age. We’ve got all the containers, trucks, educational materials, and expert staff ready to help all different entities overcome any challenges and succeed with composting,” he said.

Organic material is the single largest category of material disposed of as trash in the city. Without a policy to mandate the diversion of organic material from the trash, the city would not reach the waste reduction goals for 2025 to 2050, officials said.

“Well, it’s about time!” Reinel said. “Compost is making more America, literally. Who’s against that? EverGreen ZeroWaste is thrilled to have this organics recovery ordinance in front of Aspen City Council. We’re proud to have been working for more than 13 years to bring composting into the regional mainstream, and this legislation is a historic opportunity for the Aspen community to continue being a leader in resource recovery and waste diversion.”

What does the ordinance do?

The ordinance prohibits the disposal of organic material as trash through three phases over five years.

Each phase of the ordinance will apply to a specific generator — retail food establishments and commercial businesses — of waste until the final phase in 2028, when it applies to any occupant generating organic waste in city limits.

The ordinance does not mandate all organic material be composted. It mandates the generator to alternatively dispose of organic materials through a practice that recovers the resources and returns them to the community or environment.

An organic recovery practice may include donation for human consumption, animal feed, composting, or any other practice approved by the Environmental Health and Sustainability Department. Staff predicts that most generators will contract with an existing compost hauler since the service is immediately available.

If a generator chooses an alternative recovery practice, such as donation for consumption, the methods for transporting and “re-homing” the organics will need to be established by the generator.

Officials said the ordinance is the most impactful they have put forward for an alternative disposable practice such as composting. This is crucial because more than over 40% of current waste could be diverted but currently isn’t.

Consequently, this prohibition may influence businesses to rethink inventory purchasing and decrease the amount of food waste that occurs due to spoilage and over purchasing.

“We’re hopefully going to get a little busier,” Reindel said. “Even though we’re already doing collections in Aspen almost every day, we’re still looking to help more folks make the most of composting, while optimizing their participation with existing recycling systems, too. We’ve got a lot of experience dealing with growth”

Along with saving space in the local landfill, keeping organics out of the trash recognizes the energy, water, and transportation invested into growing food and the methane generated when these materials are landfilled, officials said.

More community outreach and education was requested by the City Council. Members said that education about where to get containers and what to compost is essential. For the first phase, all residential entities can receive a free compost bin at City Hall.

The City Council is scheduled for the second reading of the ordinance Feb. 28. If that is approved, city staff will begin working with businesses in the first phase of compliance to support them with technical assistance and other resources, and the first phase would take effect six months after passage.

Key Elements of Ordinance:

  • Organic materials must be separated from materials thrown away as trash and alternatively disposed of in a recoverable fashion.
  • Organics receptacles stored outdoors in the Commercial Core are required to be certified wildlife-proof and approved by the Environmental Health and Sustainability Department as compliant.
  • The Environmental Health and Sustainability Department is the lead department educating the public and ensuring compliance with this code.
  • The ordinance will be phased in over five years following adoption.

Three Phases of Organics Waste Diversion:

  • Effective six months upon passage: all businesses with a city retail food license, such as restaurants, shall separate organics from substances designated for trash disposal.
  • Effective Jan. 1, 2026: all commercial businesses and multifamily properties shall separate organics from substances designated for trash disposal.
  • Effective Jan. 1, 2028: everyone within the city limits generating organic waste shall separate organics from substances designated for trash disposal.