Greenprint Denver: Minimizing waste
Greenprint Denver is halfway through its four-year plan to make Denver more sustainable. This is the last in a series looking at specific goals in the plan and the progress that has been made.
Although Denver residents are doing significantly more recycling, they still need to make great strides in reducing the amount of trash that ends up in landfills to meet Greenprint Denver’s 2011 goals for waste reduction.
Denver Recycles, the city’s curbside pickup program, plans to collect 30,000 tons of recyclable material in 2009 — 67 percent more than the 18,000 tons collected in 2005.
Residents have reduced the amount of trash going to the dump this year by 17 percent. By 2011, Greenprint Denver aims to reduce landfill waste by 30 percent.
“We’re halfway there,” said Charlotte Pitt, recycling program manager for Denver’s solid waste management division. “We could continue to increase the recycling rate, but the goal is to get it (trash) out of the landfill.”
As part of Greenprint Denver, the city set several different goals for waste minimization, with milestones in 2007 and 2011.
The first milestone was increasing the amount of materials collected through Denver Recycles by 50 percent, from 18,000 tons in 2005 to 27,000 tons in 2007. At the end of 2007, curbside recycling netted 26,500 tons of material. Another 500 tons came from seasonal programs, such as leaf and Christmas tree recycling.
In 2008, Denver Recycles collected 28,500 tons of curbside materials and 500 tons from seasonal programs. This year, Pitt estimates that Denver residents will divert 30,000 tons of trash into recycling because more households are participating in the program.
Denver Recycles served 66,000 households in 2006. This year, 93,000 are enrolled in the program.
“We expected the requests for new recycling containers to drop, but we’re seeing 150 to 200 requests a week,” Pitt said.
Only households that use city trash collection can participate in Denver Recycles. The waste management division serves 165,000 single-family residences and apartment buildings with less than seven units. As of February 2008, private trash collectors served 94,000 households, according to Bob Kochevar, deputy operations manager with Denver Public Works.
Scott Morrissey, deputy director for Greenprint Denver, noted that when looking only at households with city trash pickup, the participation rate in the recycling program is pretty high: 56 percent. And that doesn’t include trash generated from businesses.
Pitt said the city has not looked at how much commercial waste could be recycled, although she said she hopes it will be included in Denver’s new 20-year solid waste management master plan. The plan is expected to be completed by December.
For 2011, Greenprint Denver doesn’t specify a goal for curbside recycling. Instead, according to Greenprint’s Web site, the goal is to “reduce landfilled waste by 30 percent per current customer through composting, recycling and modification of collection methods from the 2004 baseline.”
According to Pitt, however, the 2011 goal is not to reduce landfilled waste by 30 percent per customer, but to reduce the amount of garbage picked up by the city by 30 percent.
In 2006, the city picked up 265,000 tons of landfilled garbage. That dropped to 220,000 tons in 2008. But this year’s figures likely won’t be close to the 2011 target of 185,000 tons.
“We know 2011 will be here quickly,” Pitt said. “We know that the goal is out there, and we are continuing to strive for it.”
One method of decreasing landfill waste is composting organic matter.
Last year, Denver conducted a waste composition study. In June and November, random samples of residential trash were collected and analyzed. The results revealed that the garbage was about 57 percent organic matter (food), 14 percent recyclable paper, 10 percent plastic (which may or may not be recyclable), 7 percent hazardous or special waste such as construction material, 6 percent residue (grass clippings, shredded paper), 3 percent metal and 2 percent nonrecyclable glass.
“What it tells us is that there is a lot of material in the wastestream that is not being captured for alternative uses,” Pitt said.
Last October, Denver started a pilot composting program involving 3,300 households. Each household was issued a 65-gallon green cart to collect food waste, yard debris and soiled food containers. From then until June, 820 tons of organic matter were collected, with each household producing an average of 22 pounds a week. The pilot program doesn’t end until March 2010, so the city hasn’t been able to determine yet whether it is cost-effective.
“We want to see what comes from it,” Pitt said, adding that composting has the potential to help the city achieve, if not exceed, the 2011 goal in reducing the amount of landfilled waste.
Another way to decrease landfilled waste is to enroll more participants in Denver Recycles.
Last month, the city contracted with Denver Public Schools to pick up the trash and recyclables from the district’s 143 schools. The trash pickup began immediately, but the recycling program is being phased in at the rate of 15 to 20 schools a month, with full participation expected in 2011.
“We roll it out so slowly because we couple the service with education,” Pitt said. “As we go to the schools, we meet with the faculty and managers, we go to staff meetings and school assemblies. We want to teach them how to educate the students on the benefits of recycling before we give them the carts.”
Pitt said that each school would be allocated a certain number of purple recycling carts, depending on need, but that every classroom also would get a small recycling bin.
“We kept a large supply of old residential recycling bins for classroom use,” she said. “They’re smaller, so they’re a nice size for classrooms.”
Pitt estimates that DPS will recycle about 1,500 tons of materials, mostly paper, cardboard, aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles. Although this may seem small, Pitt said she hopes that it will encourage more residents to participate in Denver Recycles.
“We hope that kids would go home and say, ‘Mom, why don’t we have recycling here?’ ” Pitt said. “It’s the same recycling service at school and at home, so it will benefit both programs.”
Recycling program at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
One of the 2007 goals for waste minimization was to establish a recycling program at a highly visible city facility. Red Rocks Amphitheatre started such a program in 2007, according to Jenny Schiavone, director of communications for Denver’s Division of Theatres and Arenas.
“Our initial goal was to identify and implement a permanent recycling program at the venue that would fit our business model,” Schiavone said. ”With a customer base consisting of concertgoers creating waste inside the ampitheater, promoters and performers creating waste backstage, and employees creating waste in the restaurant and other areas of the venue, we were challenged to find a program that everyone could participate in, and one that wouldn’t rely completely on a behind-the-scenes effort.”
In 2007, Red Rocks recycled 48 tons of material. In 2008, that rose to about 129 tons. Last year, the ampitheater also started a composting program. In 2008, about 37 tons of food waste and “once living” things such as paper towels were composted. Figures for this year aren’t available yet.
“Between the recycling and composting initatives, we have seen an 85 percent reduction in our waste stream and consider the Red Rocks recycling program to be a huge success,” Schiavone said. ”The Red Rocks program is serving as a model for similar initiatives at some of our other venues, including the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Denver Coliseum.”
Denver International Airport
Greenprint Denver calls for the airport to decrease the amount of solid waste sent to the landfill by 5 percent annually from a 2005 baseline number of 0.51 pounds per passenger. According to the Greenprint Web site, this equates to target weights of 0.46 pounds per passenger for 2007, and 0.26 pounds for 2011.
Janell Barrilleaux, director of environmental services at DIA, says that these targets are incorrect.
“Our goal is to reduce by 5 percent per year per passenger,” she said. “Maybe it’s a miscalculation on the part of Greenprint Denver.”
Barrilleaux said that the baseline figure — 0.51 pounds per passenger in 2005 — was not attained until 2007. For 2008, the target was 0.44 pounds per passenger, which DIA came close to reaching at 0.445 pounds per passenger. This year’s target is 0.42 pounds.
“We plan to do some education and hope that the numbers come out OK,” she said.
Barrilleaux said that Greenprint’s stated goal of 0.26 pounds per passenger by 2011 is unrealistic. With a 5 percent decrease annually, the targets would be 0.40 pounds per passenger in 2010, and 0.38 pounds in 2011. It would take until 2014 to reach 0.26 pounds.
To put the pounds-per-passenger figures in context, here are some additional statistics:
- In 2005, DIA had 43,387,369 passengers. It sent 10,963 tons of waste to the landfill and recycled 508 tons.
- In 2006, 57,326,506 passengers used the airport. DIA sent 11,648 tons of trash to the dump and recycled 774 tons.
- In 2007, 49,863,352 passengers generated 12,915 tons of landfilled waste and more than 1,000 tons of recyclables.
- Last year, passenger traffic climbed to 51,245,334, but the amount of landfilled trash decreased to 11,407 tons. The airport recycled 1,432 tons.
“The recycling number just keeps going up,” Barrilleaux said.
She noted that DIA has been recycling newspapers since it opened in 1995. Since then, other items have been added to the recyclables list. Last year, all the offices in the main terminal went to single-stream recycling. This year, the airport also had a three-month pilot composting program.
“We’re evaluating on whether it would make sense for our businesses,” Barilleaux said. “It cost more to compost things than to put them in a landfill. If it becomes a more cost-effective option, then we may expand it.”
She noted that DIA started developing its Environmental Management System in 2001 and received international certification for it in 2004. The airport recycles a variety of materials that aren’t generated by passengers, such as tires, antifreeze, wood pallets, scrap metal, batteries, used oil, solvents, deicing fluid and demolition materials.
“DIA has always recycled,” she said. “When Greenprint Denver came along, we said, ‘Cool.’ But we were doing sustainability long before sustainability became cool.”
Reduce paper consumption citywide
Another Greenprint goal is to reduce citywide paper consumption by 20 percent or more from 2007 to 2011.
Denver used 159,487 reams of paper in 2007, according to Denise Stepto, Greenprint spokeswoman. The city has implemented several measures to cut down on the use of paper, including Paper Free Fridays, providing additional education through city e-bulletins and e-newsletters, and promoting paper-free meetings and the use of the city’s intranet site. City printers are programmed to print on both sides of a sheet of paper.
This year, the city is on track to use 138,446 reams of paper, a 13 percent reduction from 2007. To reach the 2011 goal, Denver will have to get the number down to 127,589 reams.
Under the Greenprint Denver plan, the city can promote the use of environmentally friendly products by increasing the proportion of ”eco-efficient” annual commodity and service bids it makes each year. The 2007 goal was to increase those bids by 10 percent per year from the 2004 baseline, and the 2011 goal was to increase the proportion to 60 percent from the baseline.
However, according to Stepto, the city presumed that the baseline in 2004 was zero percent, and it didn’t start the clock on increasing the proportions until 2007.
The city uses a checklist of 14 factors to determine if a commodity or service is “environmentally preferable.” Those factors include durability, reusability, energy efficiency, recyclability and water efficiency.
“Buyers are tasked with analyzing new and existing bids and Requests for Proposals, and developing specifications or questions for the vendors that incorporate as many of these criteria as possible, whenever the commodity lends itself to such an effort,” Stepto said.
An example of this is including biofuels in the Denver’s fuel bid.
Stepto said the city is on pace to increase the proportion of eco-efficient bids to 38 percent this year, and Denver will be able to meet the 60 percent goal in 2011.
Another way Greenprint says the city can be eco-efficient is by using fly-ash concrete in infrastructure projects wherever possible.
“Fly ash is a waste product from coal-burning power plants that produces highly durable and less expensive concrete,” according to the Greenprint Denver Web site.
Greenprint does not set a specific goal for how much fly ash the city must use each year, and the city has not been tracking how much fly ash it uses on infrastructure projects.
The city has established specifications that whenever it is technically or financially possible, fly ash will be used in 20 percent of all concrete mix designs for Better Denver bond projects, as well as on nonbond projects, according to Paul Sobiech, the Environmental Management System program coordinator for Denver Public Works. Data on how much fly ash is used on Better Denver bond projects won’t be compiled until the individual projects are completed and closed out.
As for tracking fly ash used on nonbond projects, Sobiech said the city has made a commitment to aggregate fly ash data on recent bond projects but not for other projects.
“But that may change in the future if we find collecting such data useful,” he said.
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