Free recycling for every household in Colorado will start in 2026, state officials say

Colorado officials are planning to boost the state’s lagging recycling rate by launching free recycling for every household in the state starting in 2026.

This recycling overhaul in the works, with capacity assessments scheduled this year followed by system design, will allow statewide recycling at no cost based on a list of materials that can be recycled, according to officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

CDPHE’s materials management unit chief Wolf Kray on Thursday confirmed the push for free recycling statewide but declined to discuss it pending approval from agency information gatekeepers. It’s unclear whether Colorado residents in cities such as Denver, and local governments, still would have to fund recycling after 2026.

A nonprofit nationwide Circular Action Alliance has been tasked with developing a convenient, cost-effective system for Colorado and other states, a CDPHE news release this week said.

A new state law (Producer Responsibility Program for Statewide Recycling Act) requires makers of products sold in Colorado to create a “producer responsibility organization” and a system to cover the costs of recycling statewide.

Nationwide, states’ average portion of waste materials recycled hovers around 30%. In Colorado, state officials have estimated the rate remains roughly 16%. The state law requires the government to set minimum recycling targets by 2030 and 2035. State officials have declared Coloradans will divert 45% of their waste to recycling before 2036.

Colorado’s recycling overhaul aims to spread responsibility from consumers to producers of goods sold in the state — an estimated 1,500 companies that sell items packaged in plastic, glass, metal and cardboard. Companies now must pay fees into a fund that supports statewide curbside recycling and re-use industries. Companies get first dibs to recover their own materials.

Colorado has joined a few other states, including Maine and Oregon, along with Canada and European nations, in trying to reduce waste sent to landfills. The waste that is buried in landfills emits heat-trapping methane gas and U.S. authorities have identified landfills as a major cause of climate warming, which leads to increased fires, drought and other calamities.

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