Recycle Colorado, a statewide nonprofit whose members include more than 300 businesses, local governments and nonprofits, today released the findings of its first-ever candidate survey. The survey found that many candidates running for statewide office support policies and incentives to attract recycling entrepreneurs and businesses, help create local jobs and establish Colorado as a regional recycling hub.
The survey comes less than two weeks before the elections, with the recycling industry still adjusting after China, the biggest importer by far of U.S. recyclables, began rejecting all but the cleanest materials last January.
Recycle Colorado’s four-question survey was sent to all 191 Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Unity Party and unaffiliated candidates who are running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor or the General Assembly this year. Of the 53 candidates who responded, 75 percent favored state-level action to develop new markets for recycled materials in Colorado and to help more communities recycle.
Candidates were asked what they would do to develop more local markets for the state’s recycled materials to ensure that recycling’s benefits, new jobs and sustainable economic development, are also enjoyed in Colorado. “Incentives to bring new businesses and entrepreneurs to Colorado to turn our trash into valuable new products,” was a top choice for a majority of respondents. Specific incentives included:
- Tools and research (e.g., studies of available materials for recycling, outreach materials, trainings, available financial resources, networking) on recycling markets for businesses (75 percent support)
- More grants and reduced rate loans for end-market businesses (70 percent support)
- Property tax exemptions and other tax breaks for end-market businesses (62 percent support)
- One-on-one assistance to end-market businesses (58 percent support)
What the Candidates Had To Say
U.S. Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis (D) affirmed his support for increasing recycling as a means to bring additional jobs into Colorado.
“Our movement toward a more renewable future should include the streamlining of our state’s recycling policies to improve our rate of recycling across the state. My administration will work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, along with communities across our state, to find the best ways to incentivize recycling in every city. The state should do more to help create a market for recycling in every Colorado community. Doing this will open the door to strong public-private partnerships, where recycling businesses will move into communities everywhere to pick-up and process the community’s recycling.”
His opponents, Walker Stapleton (R), Bill Hammons (U), and Scott Helker (L) did not answer the survey.
State Representative Chris Hansen (D, HD 6) advocated for adding a full-time employee at the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) dedicated to attracting new recycling businesses to Colorado to make use of recycled materials currently being landfilled at a heavy price to local communities. Representative Hansen is running un-opposed.
“Wherever it’s possible, Colorado must be a leader on this issue,” stated House Majority Leader K.C. Becker (D, HD 13). “I support taking whatever steps necessary to make it easier for Coloradans in every corner of our state to recycle.” Her opponent, Kevin Sipple (R) did not respond to the survey.
According to a recent report by Eco-Cycle and COPIRG only 15 cities in Colorado automatically provide curbside recycling to residents along with trash carts without requiring them to subscribe to a special service. Curbside recycling is not even available in 25 counties and four counties have neither recycling drop-off sites nor curbside collection.
State Representative Lois Landgraf (R-HD 21) suggested creating incentives for individuals to recycle.
Landgraf’s opponent, Liz Rosenbaum (D) wants to provide assistance to local communities and haulers to purchase recycling containers.
State Representative Dylan Roberts (D-HD 26) advocates for more funding for recycling from the state general fund.
Robert’s opponent, Nicki Mills (R) suggests providing incentives for recycling businesses through bonds, public agency funds, public-private joint funding and state agency grants and loans.
Laurie Johnson, executive director of Recycle Colorado (formerly the Colorado Association for Recycling), agrees that one of the biggest challenges is a shortage of funding for local communities. Currently the state spends $3.5 million annually in Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity (RREO) Grants to help boost recycling, yet the state receives between $8 million and $14 million in requests each year. In comparison, other states, such as Michigan, are considering dedicating up to $15 million per year on similar recycling projects.
Why Colorado is So Far Behind
Despite its environmental credentials, Colorado remains one of the most wasteful states in the nation, burying tons of recyclable materials–glass, aluminum, cardboard, paper and some plastics–in landfills every year. The value of those materials? An estimated $265 million.
Johnson said she views the elections as a bipartisan way to educate candidates about the critical role recycling plays in a healthy, sustainable economy. Johnson stated that Recycle Colorado’s policy agenda is to get the state to invest significantly more. The agenda aims specifically at assisting local communities to build recycling infrastructure as well as to support “end-market” businesses that manufacture new products using materials generated locally.
“Recycling is a powerful economic driver, but a lot of decision-makers don’t see its full potential yet,” Johnson said. “Not only does recycling create nine or ten times as many jobs per ton of waste as landfilling, it also relieves local governments and communities of the high costs of cleaning up leaking landfills and polluted air and water,” she added.
Currently glass can be recycled and remanufactured in Colorado along with some metals, but cardboard, paper, other metals, and most plastics are shipped to out-of-state markets.
“We have a great opportunity to make Colorado the recycling hub for the Rocky Mountain region,” explained Randy Moorman, Recycle Colorado’s Vice President and Policy Chair. “With the upheaval in the global recycling market, Colorado could capitalize on the need for an alternative to China and other countries for recycled materials by attracting end market users and entrepreneurs to the state.”
Recycle Colorado’s Johnson said she was pleased with the overall survey results and appreciated the candidates’ detailed understanding of recycling challenges and opportunities.
“We are excited to work with the new governor and the General Assembly. Now is the time for us as a state to transform Colorado into a leader in recycling, composting, and remanufacturing in keeping with our reputation as a green state. We have a great opportunity to make Colorado an economic recycling hub for the Rocky Mountain Region. The next four years are crucial to setting economic policy and investments in Colorado’s recycling markets so that we can grow our state’s overall economy and create jobs.”