Colorado’s legislature recently passed House Bill 1355, a producer responsibility bill that requires companies to pay for recycling programs for their containers, packaging and paper.
The program will be fleshed out over the next few years. The bill’s timeline has plans being implemented in 2026, which proponents of the bill say gives companies and local governments enough time to develop what will work best to create a coordinated, statewide system for recycling. Currently, Colorado’s recycling rate is at 15%, which is less than the national average and the state’s goal of 28% by 2021.
“Typically, the cost to recycle our items falls on individual homeowners, (homeowners associations) or, in the case of the recycling drop-off centers, on local governments,” Rachel Zerowin, community programs director of High Country Conservation Center, said. “A bill like this — producer responsibility — will have the companies producing the items taking ownership of their waste and the end of life of their products.”
The bill aims to make recycling for Coloradans more accessible and more uniform. Under producer responsibility policy, producers form an independent nonprofit Producer Responsibility Organization to manage the collection and distribution of funds to increase and improve recycling, and companies’ membership dues are based on the amount and type of packaging they sell in Colorado.
Then, that organization will conduct a statewide needs assessment to identify where improvements need to be made, and based on this data, the organization will propose goals and plans to reach state goals. Producers are required to participate in the organization in order to sell products in the state, and there is an option for individual producers to submit their own plan to fund and manage their products in lieu of joining. Producers do not include small businesses with less than $5 million in gross annual revenue or selling less than one ton of covered materials; restaurants; packaging around Colorado-grown agricultural products; or products with specific federal safety regulations such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides.
Finally, the organization contracts with and pays private haulers and local governments to provide free recycling for containers, packaging and paper products to all residents and businesses across the state. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will oversee the program and approve any potential plans.
“What’s recyclable in Summit County is different than what’s recyclable in Denver, and maybe different than what’s recyclable in the southwest corner of the state or the southeast corner of the state or anywhere else,” Zerowin said. “With this statewide program, again, it will help to create some uniformity which is so important in resort communities like ours — where you may have lots of second homeowners who live in another city in the state. That way, they can recycle the same things at their main home in Colorado as they can in their second home in these resort communities. It’s super exciting.”
Before the bill officially passed, several large consumer companies — including Coca-Cola, L’Oreal USA, Unilever North America, PepsiCo and SC Johnson — penned a letter to Colorado legislators in support of H.B. 1355 and to express “strong interest” in a producer-responsible model.
“Our companies are investing in the improvement of recycling systems around the world, innovating our packaging designs, and collaborating with suppliers, local communities, and customers to advance solutions that are good for consumers, the environment, and our industry,” a portion of the letter reads. “As producers, our companies have learned through decades of experience that (extended producer responsibility) systems can be an effective way to improve and manage collection and recycling systems depending on a set of critical design features. Producers need to be empowered to run the program under the supervision of public authorities, with appropriate provisions for transparency, reporting, performance, auditing and compliance.”
Zerowin added that when recycling systems put responsibility on the producers of waste, it can incentivize them to create more sustainable packaging. She said it creates a win-win scenario: the producer doesn’t have to spend as much and consumers can produce less long-term waste.
“For the folks packaging in cardboard boxes made from post-consumer recycled content and nothing else, they’re going to pay a much lower price than someone packaging their item in foam, miscellaneous plastics and all these other non-recyclables out there,” Zerowin said.
For Summit County’s current guidelines on recycling, visit https://highcountryconservation.org/recycling-in-summit-county/.