Colorado Needs Assessment for Recycling and Composting Infrastructure

Colorado landscape with plains and mountains

Colorado Needs Assessment for Recycling and Composting Infrastructure

First Producer-Led Needs Assessment in the U.S. Identifies Recycling Opportunity in Colorado

Circular Action Alliance, or CAA, delivered a comprehensive assessment of Colorado’s current recycling system to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. The needs assessment — the first of its kind in the U.S. — marks critical progress toward implementing Colorado’s Extended Producer Responsibility law for packaging and paper products. HDR, teamed with Eunomia Research & Consulting, conducted the needs assessment, which identified scenarios for the EPR program to more than double the state’s current recycling rate for these materials. 

As the approved producer responsibility organization, or PRO, under Colorado’s Producer Responsibility Program for Statewide Recycling Act, CAA brought us in to lead an inclusive assessment with the CDPHE and a state-appointed advisory board of Colorado-based representatives with expertise in recycling, composting and waste management. Considering the needs of all geographic areas in the state, we evaluated existing recycling services and infrastructure for managing single-use packaging and paper products, and identified gaps in existing services. 

Our research process produced more than 100,000 data points on Colorado’s recycling and composting services through 75 interviews and facility tours with Colorado’s recycling and composting service providers, 150 municipal surveys, webinars, desktop research, and ongoing conversations with other key stakeholders, such as local communities and schools, end markets for recyclables, environmental non-profits, environmental justice groups, and businesses. 

The needs assessment revealed disparities in the opportunities Coloradans have to recycle the packaging and paper products they use, depending on where they live in the state. Currently, about 20% of households in rural areas have curbside recycling services. Based on the findings, Colorado’s new statewide recycling program could provide 55% of rural households with curbside recycling while others could benefit from improvements to drop-off collection. 

Three future recycling service scenarios are included in the needs assessment, based on the cost and performance of the current system and potential for improvement. The scenarios outline recycling and collection rates the state can achieve by 2030 and 2035, as well as the operating and capital costs. Following a public comment period, CDPHE will select one scenario to recommend to the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado Legislature for approval in March of 2024. 

Colorado’s new statewide recycling program will be funded by the companies that are responsible for the consumer packaging and paper products they supply into the state. Under the law, CAA must provide Coloradans with equitable and convenient recycling services. 

Colorado landscape with plains and mountains
Circular Action Alliance

Statewide, CO
United States