Colorado lawmakers craft producer responsibility bill to try to boost state recycling rates

Producer responsibility
Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-04 07:27:49-04

DENVER — A parade of purple plastic bins goes on every two weeks in Denver as families and businesses put out their recycled goods for collection.

The city has a sprawling recycle program that can collect everything from glass, carboard and paper to plastic, aluminum and steel. Denver and cities like Arvada, Boulder, Fort Collins and Thornton all have curbside recycling programs that are automatically available to residents. Others like Aurora, Brighton, Castle Rock, Greeley and Westminster require would-be recyclers to subscribe to the service.

However, several rural and mountainous communities do not have coordinated recycling programs because of the cost and logistical challenges. As a result, Colorado has one of the lowest recycling rates in the nation. An annual study found that only 15% of the state’s waste is recycled.

In an effort to boost recycling rates, Colorado lawmakers have unveiled a bill to create a statewide, uniform recycle system.

House Bill 22-1355 would create a producer responsibility program in the state. It would require companies that sell products in the state to pay into the program for the amount of goods they sell in the state and the waste they contribute. The money will then be used towards a statewide recycling program that will establish a clear, uniform list of what’s recyclable and educate the public on it.

Producers will also be incentivized to use recycled or recyclable materials in their products and also cut down on waste. Other states like Maine, Oregon and Washington have started working toward the idea already, as have numerous other countries.

“It's a game changing piece of legislation,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson.

Cutter blames the low recycling rates in the state on the patchwork of recycling programs and policies across different communities. She believes that if the state can move toward a more uniform system, people would be more inclined to recycle.

“Right now, I think there's just a lot of confusion," Cutter said. "People don't know what to put where, and so this, because it'll be a uniform system, it'll be consistent for everyone."

The producer responsibility fee will apply to companies that operate in Colorado and ones that ship their goods here. Companies that report less than $5 million gross revenue would be exempt from paying into the program.

The bill does carve out exceptions for some businesses, like certain medical supplies, toxic and hazardous materials that need to be packaged in a particular way, bound books, products that fall under state poison guidelines and more. Exceptions are also offered for nonprofits, retail food establishments that pay an annual license fee and state or local governments.

“What I think this bill really does is it gets the collaboration of industry to come together,” said Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Adams.

Despite his optimism, several industries have already come out in opposition to the bill, while others have expressed concerns about what it will mean for them.

Albertsons-Safeway and the Colorado Farm Bureau have both come out opposing the bill. Other industry groups like newspapers, marijuana and small businesses have raised concerns over how something like this will work for them.

The bill does specify that a person cannot charge any kind of point-of-sale or point-of-collection fee to recoup costs to meet its producer obligations.

If the bill is passed, the program will gradually be rolled out over a number of years and will include the creation of an advisory board with industry input for how it should work. Funding would also be invested into recycling innovations and development.

Both Priola and Cutter say they wish the recycling program could roll out even quicker, but they want to give everyone time to adjust to the new requirements.

“Everybody would like to move faster, but it's for the benefit of making sure we do the right thing first instead of having to go back and fix things," Priola said. I think the timeline lined out in the bill is satisfactory."

He hopes this legislation will serve as a model for other states on how a program like this can be possible. With enough states signing on, Priola hopes producers will change their packaging for everyone to help cut down on waste.

The bill is expected to face its first committee test next week.