Written by our very own Edmée Knight and Steve Carr from Boulder Valley Credit Union.
Recycling and composting are easy actions we can take now to reduce our negative impact on the planet and, more specifically, to help slow down climate change. Many of us assume Boulder is a leader when it comes to conserving resources. Unfortunately, we are not. As a city, according to 2013 City of Boulder data, we recycle 33 percent of our total waste. Other cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, Portland, Ore., and Madison, Wisc. far surpass us, recycling and composting between 60 and 80 percent. That is why we, Alfalfa’s Market and Boulder Valley Credit Union, are asking the Boulder City Council to pass a city ordinance to require all Boulder businesses to recycle and restaurants and grocery stores to compost.
We strongly believe adopting a mandatory commercial recycling and composting ordinance should be a priority for the City Council as they work on a new Zero Waste Strategic Plan. The aforementioned cities with high recycling and composting rates are successful thanks in large part to an ordinance requiring businesses to recycle.
When we look at the different sectors of Boulder’s community, according to recent city data, single-family homes are leading the way by recycling and composting close to 60 percent of their waste while businesses are only recycling and composting 28 percent of their waste. Sixty-five percent of Boulder’s waste stream is generated by businesses and industry. Businesses have been encouraged to voluntarily recycle for more than 25 years, yet the sector continues to lag behind.
At Alfalfa’s Market, we take recycling, composting and over all waste diversion seriously. Not only is it part of every employee training but it’s part of our core values. We believe it is our duty to take responsibility for the negative externalities that our business creates- waste from food production and packaging. On average, we divert 93 percent of our waste from the landfill and we’re proud of this as we know that landfills account for more than 20 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted every year.
Similarly, Boulder Valley Credit Union believes that sustainability is the right thing to do. Our “green” efforts are based upon programs designed to further our culture of environmental responsibility within the communities we serve. We recycle and use compostable paper products at all of our branches, we compost at our larger branches, and we have installed solar panels at our main branch. In addition, we collect grocery bags, electronics, and other hard-to-recycle materials for recycling, and all of our marketing materials are printed on post-consumer recycled paper with 100 percent soy or corn ink.
We know there are many Boulder businesses similar to ours that are doing their part. But unfortunately, there are many who are not. Passing a city-wide ordinance will level the playing field and create a new standardization for Boulder. The ordinance could require property owners to offer recycling and composting to their business tenants. It can also address land use codes that currently limit recycling and composting by considering exemptions for some businesses (e.g. allowing recycling and compost trash containers to occupy existing parking spaces when appropriate). Businesses can adjust their trash costs by switching to recycling and composting and as result substantially reduce their trash service frequency or volume. The new ordinance could be phased in over time to give businesses the opportunity to adapt to the new standard.
In addition to the environmental benefits, a mandatory commercial recycling and composting ordinance can help our local economy. Boulder businesses currently spend approximately $1 million every year to landfill an estimated 10,000 tons of cardboard, paper, bottles, and cans that could have been recycled. If those 10,000 tons were recycled instead, they would be worth $200,000 to local businesses and haulers. A recent city Zero Waste evaluation study concluded that a mandatory business recycling policy in Boulder would create between 15 and 33 new jobs.
We at Alfalfa’s Market and Boulder Valley Credit Union are doing our part to lighten our load on the environment and it’s time for the rest of Boulder businesses to step up and take responsibility too. If every business in Boulder recycled and all restaurants and grocery stores composted, behavior change would happen much faster and we’d have a great chance to reach our community goal of recycling and composting 85 percent by 2017.
Passing a new mandatory commercial recycling and composting ordinance is the right thing to do for our environment and our economy. We look to the Boulder City Council to make this a priority.
Edmee Knight is Shareholder Relations and Sustainability Manager at Alfalfa’s Market; Steve Carr is Public Relations and Education Specialist at Boulder Valley Credit Union.