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Denver falls short in recycling

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The national average for recycling is 34%. The State’s average falls short of that at 26%. The City of Denver drops drastically down to a small 14% average according to Denver’s Public Works. The City has a goal of 30% recycling of the waste we use. So where do we go from here. Well, the City wants everyone to participate and increase their recycling by 2 pounds per week. Everyone, however doesn't recycle. The City's average reflects this clearly.

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In research regarding who participates in recycling, there is little to be found. In fact the most comprehensive review of research that has been done happened in the late 90’s and published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology. “Who Recycles and When” A Review of Personal and Situational Factors by P. Wesley Schulz, Stuart Oskamp and Tina Mainieri from The Claremont Graduate School in Claremont, CA “reviews the empirical studies of recycling, summarizes research findings, and identifies areas for future research. The effects on recycling behavior of both personal variables (personality, demographics, and attitudes of environmental concern) and manipulable situational variables are reviewed. Results indicate that high income is a good predictor of recycling, whereas gender and age are not. General environmental concern appears to be related to recycling only when recycling requires a high degree of effort. However, relevant specific attitudes have consistently been found to correlate with recycling behavior. The seven situational variables reviewed (prompts, public commitment, normative influence, goal setting, removing barriers, providing rewards, and feedback) all produce significant increases in recycling behavior. However, there are several major limitations to the research. Results are based largely on single-variable assessments of recycling, and fail to consider interactions with characteristics of the environment or the population involved.”

While this seventeen page document offers some insight, it admittedly has its limitations. Additionally, more comprehensive research and review of this critical information is frankly unavailable, and this in despite the increasing importance of recycling.

As a quick review of the findings of who recycles, those most likely to recycle are environmentally conscious higher income people. Education levels, age, and ethnicity play an unclear role. Global and specific environmental knowledge and beliefs increase the chances for recycling, as does gender. It appears that women are more likely to recycle than men.

So, how does a community, that has great diversity increase our recycling average? Well, clearly knowledge is power. Now, first we must note that 75% of waste is “good stuff”, as Denver Public Works puts it. That means that 75% of what we throw away can be recycled or composted.

What is composting?

Kitchen trimmings of fruits, herbs and vegetables are returned to the soil in compost pits or barrels, soil is added and the combination is turned regularly to create a rich nourishing soil/treatment for planting beds. Withered flower arrangements and soiled paper napkins are also good for compost.

The City and County of Denver has a fee-based composting program. Enrollment is easy and is managed through the recycling service with weekly pick-up of compost items. The City collects the compost materials, delivers the organic materials to a composting facility and then the resulting soil is sold to farmers and landscapers. Just last week, Denver Public Works and Denver Environmental Health announced that it would be expanding the program in 2014.

What are the benefits of recycling? According to the EPA recycling:

  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals;
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials;
  • Saves energy;
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change;
  • Helps sustain the environment for future generations;
  • Helps create new well-paying jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States.

What can be recycled? Specifically an entire list is available from the City and County of Denver’s website. Some of those items are:

  • Cartons
  • Newspapers
  • Office Papers
  • Plastics
  • Aluminum
  • Glass
  • Cardboard

How do you recycle in Denver?

If you are in a house in the City of Denver, the city provides blue containers to put out at the curb, making recycling simple and painless. If you are in a multifamily unit with 7 units or less, the City will still provide recycling containers. For larger multi-family dwellings and business there are commercial recycling centers around the Denver area including at the larger waste companies, Alpine Waste, Waste Connections and Waste Management. The commercial route might not be as simple, but all of the companies that provide recycling try to make this as affordable and simple as possible.

More information about recycling and composting is available on the City and County of Denver Website. Simply stated, we all benefit from recycling and composting. No matter the demographic, recycling in Denver is simple and the City is committed to improving our average.

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