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Starting April 1, we have new composting guidelines for the Front Range that simplify what can be put in our green bins: food scraps, yard waste, and 3-gallon or smaller CMA-certified compost bags. The good news is that with this change, composting guidelines are clear and simple. The bad news is that formerly compostable paper products will now have to be landfilled.
These new guidelines come from A1 Organics in Keenesburg, which is currently the only large-scale compost manufacturer serving the Front Range. The change is due to contamination levels in compostables collected from businesses and residents, high enough that the final product does not meet A1’s standards for marketable compost. If the compost they make cannot be sold, they are operating at a loss.
One source of contamination is single-use disposables. Though often marketed as compostable or biodegradable, many do not actually decompose in commercial facilities. When receiving truckloads of green waste, it is difficult to differentiate between actually compostable products, mislabeled products, and non-compostable products. A1’s solution is to remove these products from their facility entirely.
The problem highlights the need for truth-in-labeling laws to establish and enforce industry standards, thereby making truly compostable products easily identifiable for consumers and waste haulers. This challenge is also an incentive for us to invest in reusables and circular economy solutions, as Planet Bluegrass has done for their Lyons festivals. By investing in reusable products rather than single-use, we are choosing a more sustainable path forward.
We have an opportunity to make something BETTER – not just better quality compost, but also a better waste diversion system for our region. Longmont and the rest of the Front Range municipalities need to take control of our own waste diversion goals and operations, rather than sending all our “green” waste trucks on a wasteful 80-100 mile round trip to Keenesburg. A publicly-owned Organics Processing Facility serving the entire Front Range would significantly benefit our community, providing the local infrastructure to process our own green waste with flexibility to manage operations however best serves our citizens. There are a multitude of green waste processing options we could explore, from small-scale farm operations to industrial-grade facilities for organic waste, which could include paper that can’t be recycled and other certified compostable products. With public support and political will, we could create a waste diversion facility that truly serves the needs of our community.
Two easy actions you can take right now to advocate for improved composting: write your state legislators in support of the draft bill being introduced this week to set standards for compostable products in Colorado, and contact the Boulder County Commissioners to request they move forward with a regional composting solution. Above all, please support local composting efforts.
Composting is an effective way to both reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for gardening and farming. By returning nutrients to the soil, compost helps plants grow stronger and more resistant to disease and pests. Composting also restores depleted landscapes such as burn areas and byways, and composting is a proven method of decreasing erosion and dependence on chemical fertilizers. Composting improves soil structure and water retention, reducing the need for irrigation. The water conservation composting provides is especially useful during extreme drought or flooding conditions.
Composting also sequesters carbon in the soil in two ways: compost itself contains carbon when applied, and it improves soil productivity, increasing above- and below-ground biomass, which stores more carbon. As beneficial microbes in healthy soil grow and become more plentiful, they sequester carbon in the soil.
Organic materials, primarily food and yard waste, currently make up 30% of the material going to landfills. When these organic materials decompose anaerobically in landfills, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. A regional composting facility would not only reduce methane emissions by diverting this green waste from landfills, it would also reduce the transportation involved, ultimately saving resources and reducing emissions.
We all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on the environment, and composting is a simple and effective way to do so. If residents and businesses stay committed to composting, together we can build a healthier, more sustainable community for generations to come.
Naomi Curland serves as Board Chair for Sustainable Resilient Longmont and their Zero Waste Action Team, which is committed to empowering residents to live more sustainably through educational workshops, city park cleanups, and advocacy work helping Longmont become a more waste-responsible community.