Restaurants to lead new composting effort, Aspen City Council decides while approving strict ordinance
On the last day of the month and the last Aspen City Council meeting before the upcoming elections, the current council unanimously approved the strictest composting ordinance of their term and one of the most stringent in the state or the nation.
The city will require all commercial businesses holding a retail food license to separate organics from substances designated for trash disposal.
That means food waste such as a leftover sandwich bun, a squash skin or its seed, and a cornhusk must be disposed of in a stringent manner.
“We emailed all the restaurants all this information, and then we held a Q&A webinar session that we invited the restaurant sector to attend and asked questions and shared out the recording. I think we had about like 10 or 12 participants from restaurant managers, staffers, and employees,” said Ainsley Brosnan-Smith, waste diversion and recycling program administrator.
“I think this is something that sets the standard and the desired outcome. It can and will be modified as needed. It’s about going further to find ways to assist these businesses to lessen their impact on our environment,” said outgoing Councilwoman Rachael Richards.
“I think the goal of it is worthy. I think organic waste is a real cause and producer of greenhouse emissions and methane. If we can pull this off, it’s wonderful. It’s a good program, but it has challenges,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “How are they going to educate the restaurant workers to separate the organics? How are they storing the organics in an order-retaining receptacle in an alley? Is this being picked up every couple of days?
“Bears frequent downtown,” he added. “Having organics out is like trolling for a northern pike.”
“I’m advising the best practices when it comes to storing organic material outside and bears,” Brosonan-Smith said. “For smell, there are items like odor neutralizers that can be applied to compost receptacles to cut down on the smell. We can also work with the haulers to increase the frequency of collection if that’s an issue. And if the container is in really bad disrepair, we can swap the container out for a fresher one.”
“Our Department of Environmental Health and Sustainability has allocated existing funds that we could use to subsidize startup costs associated with this ordinance,” Brosonan-Smith said.
They aren’t looking to levy fines if they can help it.
“We are interested in educating and keeping organics out of the trash rather than writing a lot of tickets,” Brosonan-Smith said.
The biggest pushback from the City Council, besides wandering bears, was the start date. Mandating Sept. 1 proved to be too ambitious with Aspen’s notoriously busy summer season and Labor Day weekend. So the council approved an amendment for an Oct. 15 rollout.
Why the restaurants and not the entire community? Several restaurant operators said they didn’t understand the pressure to change hospitality mannerisms before community habits.
“I think it’s a good thing. But why isn’t City Council doing it for everybody? Why wouldn’t residents be obligated to compost? I know we are making our fair share of compost piles. I imagine the entirety of town would be producing more than restaurants,” said Barbara Mendez, the owner of Big Wrap. “I don’t know if we are the guinea pigs. I already compost. If you go Whole Food and watch their customers access the garbage process and stare at the number of bins, it’s confusing. I think people get confused with too many bins. With my small space, I don’t have the room for all the pails. We could and will do a better job, as it’s mandatory. I need to be educated by somebody. I need someone willing to come by and stand here and tell us what to compost.”
And it can’t be another COVID-policing situation for Mendez: “I already policed COVID. It’s necessary but ridiculous. I don’t have time to watch people scrape their plate, nor am I going to go through the garbage.”
Chef Steven Mills of White House Tavern said he was excited.
“I think it’s a great idea — we reduce trash, we are composting, and it’s a good way for the city to make money on the sell-back of organic material,” he said.
Mills didn’t think the demand on staff would be be too much.
“We are busy, but an extra five or 10 minutes doesn’t seem too much to ask,” he said. “Employees just need to be trained on protocol, and we don’t want to be sitting on top of our green waste for days.”
“Yeah, we’re excited,” said David Reindel, co-founder of EverGreen ZeroWaste. “It’s a monumental moment for us. It feels like all our hard work is really moving some positive change forward. Like we are a conduit ushering the new normal. I won’t be surprised when policies like this trickle-down valley and beyond, showing up in communities everywhere.”
EverGreen ZeroWaste is one of two companies prepared to immediately address these mandates and haul off compost.
Future Composting Restrictions
Effective Jan. 15, 2026, all commercial businesses and multifamily properties shall separate organics from substances designated for trash disposal. All organic materials must be collected and disposed of through a recoverable management practice such as, but not limited to, donation, animal feed, composting, or any other recoverable management practice approved by the Department of Environmental Health and Sustainability.
Effective Jan. 15, 2028, every owner or occupant of a premises within the city, including all premises in a Residential Zone District generating organic waste shall separate organic materials from substances designated for trash disposal. All organic materials must be collected and disposed through a recoverable management practice such as, but not limited to, donation, animal feed, composting, or any other recoverable management practice approved by the Department of Environmental Health and Sustainability.
Industry pros promote regional approach to housing crisis at summit
Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley hosted the “Solving the Housing Crisis: A Regional Summit on Equitable Solutions” at Aspen Meadows on Wednesday. The event featured a series of sessions and panels divided by expertise.