It’s Time for Denver to “Make the Switch”

Trash talking feels dirty. But the time to talk about trash is now. So trash talk we must.  

Like many Northsiders, I spend my weekends, holidays, and summers exploring the mountains & wilderness of our state. One of the basic tenants in the outdoors is to Leave No Trace, which essentially means leaving the land better than you found it. As residents of this city, we can do a much better job of leaving Denver better than how we found it – and we can start with our trash.   

It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong. But Denver’s trash model is all mixed up & ironically encourages us to produce more, not less, waste. After 40 years of trying to change that, it’s finally time to make the switch to something better. 

A lot has been learned about trash since Denver started its curbside pickup service. For instance, we now know that incorrect trash disposal actually does a lot of damage to our land, water, and air. Unfortunately, it also severely worsens climate change. We think that every time we throw food away, it just breaks down in a landfill & becomes dirt. But, what really happens is that these food scraps create methane gas in landfills, which is 84 times worse for climate change than typical greenhouse gases. 

Composting and recycling help to solve this dangerous pollution problem & limit the trash we throw out too. And the good news is that Denver has lots of room to improve on both of these. In 2016, Denver residents sent about 192,000 tons of waste to landfills. That’s around 22 million bags of trash. The fantastic thing is that 75% of that could have been composted or recycled – that’s over 16 million bags!   

So how do we get Northsiders (and the rest of the city) to recycle and compost more? The answer is surprisingly easy. We do what dozens of other cities around the country have done & make the switch to offering free recycling and composting. Cities like Seattle and Fresno made the switch years ago to give residents free composting and recycling and instead charge for the size of individual trash cans used. Today they respectively compost and recycle 64 & 71 percent of their waste! 

By contrast, Denver only keeps a tiny fraction (26%) of our waste out of landfills. Even our neighbors to the north in Loveland, CO, use this innovative trash model (known as Pay-As-You-Throw, or PAYT) to compost and recycle over double (61%) the amount of Denver’s waste.  

So why hasn’t Denver already made this no-nonsense switch? Because it means that residents who continued with business-as-usual disposal habits would end up having to pay a little for their trash each month. For many of us, that’s a modest inconvenience for doing the right thing. It’s critical to make sure our city is a leader in helping to leave this state better than we found it, and this is one small part.  

For others, though, there are legitimate concerns over adding additional household costs on tight monthly budgets. Lower-income residents and neighbors will undoubtedly feel the pinch a little more. But, this shouldn’t be a reason not to support this common-sense switch. Instead, the city plans on financially supporting low-income households during this switch through innovative citywide programs that address these equity issues – like a sliding fee scale based on average median income.

This change to our compost, recycling, & landfill trash (PAYT) will likely be coming before the city council in the next few months. It’s essential to let our Northside Councilwoman, Amanda Sandoval, know that Northsiders support switching to free recycling and composting while also supporting lower-income households through a sliding scale rate system. 

Please contact Amanda Sandoval’s office at 720-337-7701 or by email at and let her know you want to make the switch & support this common-sense approach to handling our trash.     

Like so many of our public issues, as we learn more, we understand that there are often better & more responsible ways of doing things. Change can be hard, but making the switch to a free composting and recycling model (PAYT) is the right thing to leave our city a little better than how we found it.  

Keith Meyer

Keith Meyer is a local attorney and has called North Denver home for over a decade. He is a member of the Northside Sustainability Alliance which works to promote a common vision of sustainability throughout Northside neighborhoods. You can drop by one of their “Tap Room Talks” happening every month this fall at North Denver breweries. To find out more, or if you have questions, you can find them at or email at  


1 Comment

  1. Thanks, Keith, for sending this. It might be a good idea to send this to all of the city council members. I will encourage the people that I know to contact their city council person.

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