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Paper and compostable products no longer allowed in Colorado compost bins

Paper products, greasy pizza boxes, packaging and products labeled 'compostable' no longer allowed
Posted at 5:46 PM, Apr 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-01 19:47:29-04

DENVER — Big changes as to what's allowed to go into your compost bin have started in Colorado.

Beginning Saturday, any paper products, greasy pizza boxes, and even packaging and products labeled as fully compostable will no longer be allowed. Those are now added to the long list of already banned items including, plastics, chemicals, and glass.

The company in charge of processing the compost bins for many communities along the Front Range says contaminants are getting into bins and compromising the process. They're now only accepting food scraps and yard clippings.

"When we've seen these loads come in, we're seeing large quantities of contamination, anywhere from 3% to 20% of the value of the load," explained Clinton Sander with A1 Organics.

The issue with paper products like napkins and paper towels is not the paper itself, but what is often found on it.

"Too many people are using cleaners and then throw them in the compost bin. It's terrible for the microorganisms, terrible for the compost," said Matt Scott with Compost Colorado, which collects compost bins from neighborhoods and businesses and tries to remove any contaminants before the organic material is taken to A1 Organics.

Certified 100% compostable products like cups, plates, and silverware also will not be accepted. Again, the issue is not with the product itself but with the illegitimate look-alike products consumers buy that then end up in bins.

Paper and compostable products no longer allowed in compost bins

"They'll look green. They'll feel the same. The problem is they're being made in some warehouse somewhere overseas, and they're not actually being made from compostable materials," said Scott. "There are too many alternatives. You put 99% plant-based on something, that 1% ruins it, makes it completely uncompostable."

The idea is to cut back on the contaminants slipping through the cracks by only allowing food scraps and yard clippings. A1 Organics explains it as a reset.

"A lot of your milk cartons, they used to be lined with wax, now they're lined with plastics. A lot of your paper plates, the shiny ones, they're shiny because there's plastic on them. There are too many of these things that look like they're compostable," said Scott.

If the contaminants are not removed, they can lead to plastics and even glass ending up in the finished compost.

"Say 96% of that load is fantastic, but that contamination has now spread throughout the load. When we see it on our site, we go up to it, and all of a sudden, I see bottles in that load, I lost my confidence in the quality of that organics," explains Sander.

The bad load then gets rejected and shipped off the landfill so it doesn't contaminate the rest of the composting process.

"Through time, they are going to decompose in the landfill and create methane gas. We don't want to continue to increase methane gas into our atmosphere," said Sander. "It defeats the whole purpose."

Other items not allowed in the compost bin are: bagged recyclables, clothing, construction debris, diapers, dryer link, foil bags, fuel canisters, pet waste, plastic bags, metal, styrofoam, trash, treated or coated wood, toys, cords, hoses and chains.

In Denver, you are able to recycle: aluminum and steel cans, glass, plastic bottles and containers, aerosol cans, flattened cardboard, food boxes, paper towel tubes, non-greasy pizza boxes, food and beverage cartons, magazines, and other mixed paper.

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