The State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado 2022

6th annual look at recycling and composting in Colorado

Eco-Cycle | Used by permission

UPDATE: Check out our most recent report on recycling and composting here.

Recycling and Composting by the Numbers

Colorado continues to landfill more and recycle less than its peer states and the national average. In 2021, the state diverted just 16% of its municipal solid waste, half the national average of 32%. Residents and businesses produced more waste in 2021 than during the 2020 pandemic dip in waste and are nearly back to pre-pandemic waste generation levels. In 2021, Colorado landfilled almost 6,000,000 tons of material—roughly 95% of which could have been recycled or composted. The average Coloradan landfills over 2,000 pounds of material annually—nearly 1,000 pounds more than the national average.

Colorado continues to rank among the worst 20 states at recycling and composting and sends more to landfills than comparable Western states. On average, Colorado residents recycle and compost only 1 pound per person per day, while residents in leading states like Oregon and Washington recycle 3.1 pounds per person per day—over three times more than Colorado residents.

Colorado Municipal Recycling Rate (2021)Photo by Eco-Cycle | Used by permission

Municipal Recycling and Composting Leaders

Eco-Cycle reached out to 180 municipalities and counties to ask about highlights and challenges with their recycling and composting programs over the past year and to collect recycling and composting rates for 2021. These municipalities stand out as leading communities.

Cities with the best recycling and composting rate in 2021 (residential and commercial combined) Eco-Cycle | Used by permission
Cities with the best residential recycling and composting rate (2021) Eco-Cycle | Used by permission

With the May 2022 passage of HB22-1355: Producer Responsibility for Recycling Packaging and Paper, Colorado is poised to jump from being a laggard to becoming a leader in recycling. House Bill 22-1355, sponsored by Representative Lisa Cutter and Senators Kevin Priola and Julie Gonzales, will transform how we recycle in Colorado, making it easy for all Coloradans to recycle more paper, plastics, aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, and other packaging materials. It will also help businesses by creating a more resilient domestic supply of recycled materials to make new products. A Producer Responsibility system will rapidly improve Colorado’s recycling rate and result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner air and water, less waste sent to landfills, and stronger local economies.

Benefits of a producer responsibility systemPhoto by Eco-Cycle | Used by permission

Colorado joins Maine, Oregon, and California in passing and implementing the first Producer Responsibility programs in the US. Ours is the third state in the nation to pass a Producer Responsibility policy for packaging, and the first to pass a policy where producers pay for 100% of the costs of recycling all packaging materials (e.g., bottles, cans, boxes) and paper products (e.g., junk mail, magazines). Over 40 countries and provinces have had similar Producer Responsibility programs for the past 20 plus years, and approximately 3,000 major companies participate in these programs across Canada and Europe. Most of these companies will be the same producers participating in Colorado’s new program. HB22-1355 will dramatically improve recycling in Colorado by providing consistent funding for existing and new programs and access for all Coloradans that will result in an improved recycling system in Colorado starting in 2026.

Download the report for more information


Danny Katz

Executive Director, CoPIRG Foundation

Danny has been the director of CoPIRG for over a decade. Danny co-authored a groundbreaking report on the state’s transit, walking and biking needs and is a co-author of the annual “State of Recycling” report. He also helped write a 2016 Denver initiative to create a public matching campaign finance program and led the early effort to eliminate predatory payday loans in Colorado. Danny serves on the Colorado Department of Transportation's (CDOT) Efficiency and Accountability Committee, CDOT's Transit and Rail Advisory Committee, RTD's Reimagine Advisory Committee, the Denver Moves Everyone Think Tank, and the I-70 Collaborative Effort. Danny lobbies federal, state and local elected officials on transportation electrification, multimodal transportation, zero waste, consumer protection and public health issues. He appears frequently in local media outlets and is active in a number of coalitions. He resides in Denver with his family, where he enjoys biking and skiing, the neighborhood food scene and raising chickens.