City of Aspen may mandate composting, waste diversion

Climate action steps to slow global warming must be more aggressive, environmentalists say

Aspen City Council is considering some radical waste reduction and climate action policies that would mandate people to compost their food, require developers to divert construction materials from the local landfill and electrify buildings.

It’s part of an eight-year effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will hold global warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius increase threshold, which is a goal of the Local Governments for Sustainability.

Council is being asked by the city’s climate action office to join in a global campaign called the Race to Zero, established by the UN Climate last year.

The scientific community has determined that the next eight years are critical in fighting global warming, and local environmental leaders estimate that is the same time frame the landfill will be full if action is not taken, according to the city’s climate action team.

In advance of its annual retreat later this month, council will discuss options to advance the city’s environmental stewardship at a work session Tuesday evening.

In a memo to council, Aspen climate action officials wrote that voluntary participation in climate and waste reduction programs is not enough to achieve the ambitious goals of the community and council.

Last year, over 58% of the material buried in the Pitkin County landfill came from construction and demolition activities, according to city officials.

Since staff estimates that 79% of the construction and demolition waste received at the landfill is generated by construction within city limits, the municipal government could enact waste diversion requirements for new construction, require deconstruction for demolition sites or require recycled or repurposed materials to be used in new construction.

An analysis of the waste coming from Aspen residents and businesses in 2015 indicated almost 40% could be diverted to the compost operations at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center, according to city officials.

Organic material buried in the landfill is the largest contributing factor to landfill methane emissions, according to Ashley Perl, the city’s climate action manager; Liz Chapman, senior waste and environmental health specialist; and Chris Menges, sustainability and climate programs administrator.

They recommend council require food waste diversion in the commercial sector and mandate compost collection for residents.

“Local data from the SCRAPS composting program shows that approximately 5% of residents and 20% of the restaurants choose to divert compost and take advantage of the city-provided incentives,” their memo to council reads. “This aligns with the experiences in Fort Collins, Boulder, San Francisco and (Portland, Oregon) which did not see their diversion rates rise above the national average until they enacted mandates which required diversion as part of the waste management system.”

While Aspen has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% since 2004 according to the last published measurement in 2017, the current best practice for local governments worldwide is to put in place policies and programs on a faster timeline and with a more aggressive, mandated approach, according to the city climate action team.

The actions that are suggested for council are part of the Race to Zero campaign, which can provide resources and assistance to help implement programs and policies.

The measurement of frost-free days is used to gauge the extent of local warming in Aspen.

It’s a measure of the total days in a year when temperatures in Aspen do not dip below freezing for a 24-hour period. Between 2010 and 2019, 120 frost free days annually were measured in Aspen compared with 89 days in 1980. That change represents over a month of lost winter, according to Perl, Chapman and Menges.

“The key take-away from the data and the science is that Aspen’s climate action and waste reduction programs and goals must be accomplished on a much shorter timeline than originally planned for,” they wrote. “Achievements of this magnitude will require participation from all members of and organizations in the community, following the lead of a bold and innovative city of Aspen.”