Compost Bill Addresses Climate Change and Building Healthy Soils


DENVERCurrently, Colorado is needlessly filling up its landfills with food scraps and yard trimmings, magnifying climate impacts while foregoing economic benefits. When landfilled, this material produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Instead, it could be going to much more beneficial uses. 

On Thursday, March 23, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will hear SB23-191, a bill that will look at how the state can put millions of tons of these organic materials that now go to the landfill into more productive uses—feeding hungry Coloradans, supporting resilient local economies, creating green jobs, more productive agricultural lands, and building healthier soils that are more resilient to flooding and drought.

With a statewide composting rate of only 6% (CDPHE, “2021 Colorado Recycling Totals”), Colorado landfills organic material that could instead be used as compost or mulch to fight climate change. While residents and businesses are increasingly showing interest in expanded access for composting services, the biggest barrier to diverting more organic material is a lack of infrastructure and services to collect and process organic waste.

“We’ve worked hard over the last few years to develop zero waste policies and infrastructure in Colorado, and our bill is a logical next step. Organics diversion and the creation of compost keeps these methane-emitting materials out of the landfill, which is hugely beneficial in our efforts to mitigate climate change,” said State Senator Lisa Cutter, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “We’ve been leading the way nationwide in our efforts to create a greener state, and this will help solidify Colorado’s standing as a leader in zero waste policy.”  

“We have such a great need in our state to capture more organic waste and keep it out of the landfill. Composting these materials instead, creates valuable resources for our agricultural lands, gardens and lawns,” added State Representative Cathy Kipp, the co-prime house sponsor.  “We are woefully behind other states in building our composting infrastructure. Now is the time for us to develop a path forward and utilize organic waste to both combat climate change AND drought and poor soil health.”

“There is such a huge disparity in our state—a few communities have composting programs for food scraps and yard trimmings while others have nothing and have to fill up landfills with this valuable material. This bill will move us forward by completing a study that will help all Colorado communities better utilize organic material—both rural and urban,” explained State Representative Junie Joseph, the other co-prime house sponsor.

The Organics Diversion Study bill, SB23-191, would help our state build a stronger compost economy and fight climate change by requiring the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to evaluate and create a plan for diverting food and yard debris from Colorado landfills. The study would continue the progress begun in the 2022 Statewide Organics Management Plan by looking specifically at different factors that could help local areas within the state determine what types of organics diversion programs and infrastructure best meet their needs. The study would also provide tools and resources for local jurisdictions to use to build out organic materials diversion and composting infrastructure statewide, create a stronger demand for finished compost and mulch, and support the growing number of Colorado organics composting businesses around the state. In addition, the study would recommend policies to divert organic materials from landfills and into a hierarchy of beneficial uses—from highest preferences to lowest, including: feeding hungry people; feeding animals; producing compost, mulch, and biochar; or diverting to anaerobic digestion.    

Currently, Colorado landfills over two million tons of food scraps and yard trimmings each year, making up more than a third of all tonnage going to the landfill (Eco-Cycle “State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado 2022” and CDPHE “Waste Composition of Municipal Solid Waste Disposal 2018”). Colorado is far behind other national leaders in organics diversion.

“There are better uses for these valuable resources than burying them in the ground,” said Dan Matsch, Compost Director at Eco-Cycle and Co-Chair of the Colorado Compost Council. “We need to put these organic materials into more productive uses such as compost. With better management of our organic discards, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build more productive agricultural land and healthier soils that are better able to retain water. We need to improve our local compost infrastructure so farmers have more access to affordable compost in order to put it to work building soil and growing more nutritious food.”    

Producing and using compost sustains five times more jobs than landfilling yard trimmings and food scraps (Platt, B. “Composting makes $en$e: Jobs through Composting and Compost Use” 2013). Nationwide, for every one million tons of food scraps and yard trimmings converted into compost and used locally, composting can create 1,400 new jobs (Platt, B. “State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where & How” 2014).

"Diverting organic materials like leaves, brush, and food waste from landfill burial and into compost is an important function of municipal compost sites like the one we are lucky to have in Glenwood Springs. I use our compost on my own garden at home; it is the most important type of local recycling,” commented Liz Mauro, City of Glenwood Springs Landfill Manager. “Every community deserves to have the option of buying locally produced compost from their own yard and food waste materials. This bill will help make that opportunity available to more communities.”

Colorado lacks important infrastructure, markets, and incentives to promote the use of compost. Only 13 counties have commercial composting facilities that are permitted to accept food scraps and yard trimmings for composting (Colorado Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division. “Commercial Composting Facilities List 2023”). According to the 2022 Organics Management Plan, the potential demand for finished compost is five times greater than the amount of compost currently being generated today in Colorado.

"Composting is a growing business all across Colorado, but we just don’t have the infrastructure to collect and process all the organic material we produce,"explained Erica Sparhawk, Mayor Pro Tem, Town of Carbondale and owner of CHT Resources, a local compost facility in Delta County. "This bill is about determining how we build out that infrastructure and support small businesses like mine."

“The 2022 Statewide Organics Management Plan identified the need for crafting programs tailored to the specific needs and capacities of communities across Colorado,” said Liz Chapman, Executive Director of Recycle Colorado. “This study is poised to complement the significant progress the Department of Public Health and the Environment is currently making to fulfill the recommendations of the Plan. This study will utilize both the data gathered previously and the regional and jurisdictional differences to maximize the benefits increased organics diversion and processing will bring to the entire State.”   

The bill will be heard in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, March 23, at 1:30 pm. Proponents of the bill will be available in person for interviews at the bill hearing.

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