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Colorado Contamination Crisis: A1 Organics Limits Accepted Compostable Materials

19th March 2023

Starting April 1, A1 Organics — Colorado’s largest recycler of organic materials — will only accept food waste and yard trimmings as compostable materials, and the University of Colorado Boulder will follow suit.

A1 Organics said it has been dealing with contaminated items and is limiting those it can receive, even though composting efforts have proliferated across areas like the Front Range.

“Contamination is the No. 1 challenge our industry faces in the residential and commercial organics recycling streams,” the company said.

“A1 Organics believes a paradigm shift is needed in the collection and processing of these organics to move Colorado in the right direction towards achieving increased organics diversion and clean finished compost.”

Compostable materials will be limited to food and yard waste, affecting areas like Denver, Boulder, Lafayette, Louisville, Longmont and Arvada.

At CU Boulder, beginning this summer, consumer-facing compost containers will be removed from campus buildings. Meanwhile, items left in consumer-facing compost containers will not be decomposed between April 1 and this summer.

CU Boulder will compost food waste and plant material through Campus Dining Services and Facilities Management and Housing Facilities.

“Fortunately, A1 will continue to collect our back-of-house compost,” Jess Bradley, director of CU Boulder’s facilities services, said.

“The streams coming from dining and facilities make up 80 percent of our compost load, so the majority of our compost will stay out of the landfill.”

Reforming composting initiatives in Colorado

Local authorities, school districts and businesses that manage composting initiatives are starting to educate their customers on the acceptable materials to put in their bins — and what will happen to the rest.

Similarly, zero-waste campaigners are attempting to reform Colorado’s large-scale composting operations.

Marti Matsch, deputy director of Boulder-based nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle, shared her thoughts on the composting efforts in the city.

“We look at this as a growing pain,” Matsch said.

“It’s a sign of success that composting has become such a big part of our lives in how we handle discards. It’s a huge climate solution and we’re all committed to getting it right.”

Meanwhile, Denver officials must inform their 30,000 composting customers what they can and cannot throw in their green bins.

Earlier this month, according to Vanessa Lacayo, a Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure representative, the city updated its website and would start sending mail to customers.

“We do not expect these changes will have a huge impact for our current compost customers, given that most of what people compost at home is food waste and yard debris,” Lacayo wrote in an email, as quoted by the Denver Post.

As we begin phasing in weekly composting citywide later this summer, these new guidelines will already be in place.

Tackling issues on contaminated compost materials

A1 Organics’ website claims that 90 percent of the material it takes is compostable and can be used by farmers, landscapers, nurseries, and gardeners. However, the Denver Post wrote that the other 10 percent is “becoming a problem.”

When plastics are identified, the company cannot categorize that batch as compost. According to Elizabeth Chapman, executive director of Recycle Colorado — a nonprofit promoting waste reduction — stacks of material sit on A1 Organics’ site as the company seeks a solution to tackle the problem.

“They’re running out of room,” she said. “There’s a finite amount of space out there.”

Vermont was the first state to mandate the composting of food scraps.

Following that, the state has initiated projects to address the issue of composting containers and tableware. Cities in California and Oregon have also amended their policies.

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