Will Denver’s ‘Waste No More’ Proposition Really Reduce Waste

Voters in Denver, Colorado will be voting on a ballot initiative in November 2022, an initiative designed to reduce municipal waste by requiring every business within city limits to recycle and compost. Known as ‘Waste No More’, its proponents are convinced that passing it will reduce municipal waste in the city.

There is no way to know whether it will until it passes. Between now and then, it is important that Denver residents look closely at the proposition and its language in order to fully understand what passing it would mean.

Unfortunately, there has long been a disconnect between what people believe about recycling and what actually happens on the ground. Even composting is not all it’s cracked up to be. It can achieve its intended purpose but composting certainly isn’t a panacea for dealing with organic waste.

Waste No More Basics

Waste No More would require owners of multi-unit apartment buildings to provide recycling bins for residents. Right now, they can get away with trash bins alone. Likewise, the proposition would also require all businesses within city limits to contract for compost and recycling alongside their waste disposal.

This would essentially mean that restaurants, hotels, and even manufacturing plants would have to require staff members to separate recyclable and compostable materials so trash haulers could take them away. The trash haulers would then do for the businesses what they do for residential households.

When residential recycling trucks collect tons of material they haul to the local recycling facility, what happens to those materials? How much actually gets recycled as opposed to being sent to landfills or incinerators?

How Recycling Programs Work

Residential recycling programs are very successful in terms of paper and glass. Both materials are easily recoverable and have a strong market for recycling. On the other hand, consumer plastics are a money-losing enterprise. Nearly all the plastic the world generates ends up being disposed of because recycling it is not economically viable.

That is as true in Denver as it is anywhere else in the world. So the Waste No More ballot initiative may very well result in more paper and glass being recycled. It will probably result in more organic waste being composted. But it will not do much, if anything, for plastic. At the end of the day, isn’t that what this is all about?

Paper quickly biodegrades in a landfill. Generally speaking, it doesn’t harm the environment either. The same with organic waste. Glass doesn’t easily biodegrade, but it is also not environmentally harmful. So this all boils down to plastic. And unfortunately, collecting more plastic and sending it to a recycling center will not actually reduce the volume of plastic going to incinerators and landfills.

Cheap Recycled Plastic Sells

Seraphim Plastics is a Tennessee company that buys and recycles industrial scrap plastic in seven states. Their business model works because they can produce cheap plastic regrind at a very reasonable price. The regrind is attractive to manufacturers because it is inexpensive. Furthermore, it cuts production costs by reducing the amount of virgin plastic manufacturers have to buy.

So why don’t residential recycling programs generate the same results? Because recycling programs that require manual sorting are too costly. The added costs have to be rolled into any resulting material sold to manufacturers. That makes it too expensive to buy. It is cheaper just to buy virgin plastic.

The chances of Waste No More passing this November 2022 are pretty good. Whether or not waste is actually reduced remains to be seen. We will have enough data a few years from now to make that call.