Remember the three Rs? Reduce, reuse and recycle.
They’re relatively simple practices that can be done by anyone for more sustainable living. In Aspen, officials say residents are getting better at the recycling part, and the city of Aspen has developed a composting program so that reduction is easier too.
In 2011, the environmental health department introduced curbside composting. Today, participants include 150 residents, four homeowners’ associations and at least 10 restaurants or businesses, according to Ashley Perl, the city’s environmental health specialist.
Residents can pick up 6.5-gallon buckets from City Hall, and then dump everything from egg shells to used cereal boxes in them. Three haulers—Evergreen Events, Intermountain Waste and Mountain Rolloffs—offer weekly, curbside pick-ups for as low as $4 per week. Their territories have expanded beyond city limits, and it’s possible to get pick-up valleywide depending on where one lives.
What started as a pilot program is now permanent, joining hundreds of municipalities around the country. A recent Washington Post article reported that more than 150 communities in 18 states now offer curbside composting services. The same article says that in 2010, there were 35 million tons of food waste in the United States, and 3 percent was recycled.
And that circles back to the three Rs.
“In your home, about 30 to 50 percent of waste can be composted,” says Perl. “For restaurants, it’s closer to 70 to 80 percent. So while it’s great that we’re spending a lot of time recycling, there’s an opportunity to truly reduce what’s being put into landfills.”
Composting turns organic waste into rich soil through decomposition. It’s a process that can be done at home, in parts of the country where people have yards and there aren’t bears. But, in Aspen the same companies that haul trash will pick up your organic matter, take it to the Pitkin County Landfill, and manage the process themselves. Then, they sell this super-soil back to the community at a relatively low rate for gardens and lawns, and the process repeats itself. (It can be done at home in Aspen too, but the wildlife factor restricts what matter can go into the compost).
The Pitkin County Landfill sells compost for $34 per cubic yard. That’s a lot of soil, and the home gardener will only need a fraction for backyard planting. Perl says it sells out quickly in the spring.
It’s surprising what can go into the compost. Any organic food matter, including meat and poultry, vegetable skins, and old coffee grinds, can be tossed into the mix. Used pizza boxes, six-pack holders for beer, and plant-based plastic cups can also be composted. Yard waste? Yep. Not only do these materials break down to create a nutrient-rich soil, but it also minimizes the waste that a household is actually putting into the trash.
Instead of keeping the compost in your house, consider a smaller receptacle in the kitchen that can be emptied into the larger bin. Biodegradable bags from the farmers’ market are a good option, but so is a cardboard box.
For ardent recyclers, this is just another step in the three-R process. Think twice before throwing compostable material away, because that organic trash is really a treasure.
For more information, visit aspenpitkin.com/living-in-the-valley/green-initiatives.