Starting April 1, 2023, the region’s compost processor, A1 Organics, will only accept food scraps and yard waste as compostable items brought to their facility. Local haulers will no longer be able to collect items like napkins, paper towels, compostable serviceware, and more from both residential and commercial customers. Learn more about these changes in the frequently asked questions below.
Composting Changes FAQs - New composting guidelines starting April 1, 2023
A1 Organics, which is the region’s compost processing facility, is joining other quality-driven compost facilities around the country in simplifying the materials they accept in order to ensure a uncontaminated final compost product. Starting April 1, A1 will only accept:
- Food Scraps – produce, bread, bones, meat, cheese, eggshells, coffee ground (no coffee filters), etc.
- Yard & Plant Trimmings – leaves, twigs, flowers, grass, etc.
These items must be placed unbagged in your compost cart.
If it’s not food scraps or plant and yard trimmings, it doesn’t go in your curbside compost bin. Here are some examples of common materials that are no longer allowed to be composted:
- Paper products, including: tissues; paper towels and napkins; tissue paper; brightly colored paper; paper scraps or shredded paper; tea bags; and, coffee filters (please dump coffee grounds into the compost bin and put the filter in the trash)
- Food-soiled or greasy pizza boxes – please trash the greasy half and recycle the other half
- All compostable packaging and products – even those that are certified compostable, which includes cups, utensils, plates and bowls, and takeout containers
- Compostable bags and paper yard bags
All of the above items now belong in the trash.
A1 Organics is implementing these new guidelines along the Front Range with all the municipalities and haulers who use their services because they are seeing increased contamination in the materials they receive. Plastic, glass, metals, latex gloves, masks, etc. are mistakenly placed into compost bins and ultimately end up in A1’s finished compost product.
Food scraps and yard & plant trimmings make excellent compost, but contaminants like plastic, glass, and metals break down into sharp pieces and/or micro plastics that destroy the compost’s value, leaving A1 with a product they cannot sell.
The Front Range community has only one regional composter, A1 Organics. A1 has notified ALL communities within the state who are using their services that they are receiving high levels of contamination in the compostables (specifically plastic, glass, metal, and other non-compostable materials). As a result, A1 cannot sell their finished compost product made from community collection programs. They are calling for a cleaner stream of compost and are now accepting food scraps and yard & plant trimmings ONLY, and municipalities and haulers across the state are stepping up to let their customers know: Keep compost clean! Keep it simple with food scraps and yard & plant trimmings only. You can read A1’s notice to haulers and municipalities here.
There are multiple reasons for this:
- For every certified compostable product (such as cutlery, tableware, cups, straws, and compostable bags) you might come across, there are several more “look-alikes” that mislead customers into thinking these items are compostable (using terms like “biodegradable,” or “plant based”) when in truth they often contain non-compostable plastics.
- Unfortunately, the volume of contamination A1 receives due to misleading labeling makes any packaging or service ware item too costly to accept because of the challenge of distinguishing and sorting certified compostables from “look-alike” products that are not compostable.
- The same is true for paper. Many papers, like coffee cups and many “to go” paper containers, are coated in plastic, leaving microplastics in the compost.
- Compostable bags often contain and conceal non-compostable contamination.
- To simplify the stream and ensure there is NO contamination, A1 Organics does not want any packaging, service ware, or paper of ANY kind.
NOTE: Paper that has no plastic coating, like paper towels, facial tissues (that aren’t synthetic), coffee filters, etc. ARE compostable in your backyard compost. Make a valuable soil amendment right in your own backyard. Learn more about backyard composting here – Backyard Composting – Boulder County
Compostable serviceware (plates, bowls, cups, utensils) and other products were not commonly used until relatively recently. As their popularity has grown, they have spurred a rush of “look-alike” and mis-represented products in the marketplace. While compostable bags and food serviceware can be useful vehicles for delivering valuable food scraps, the task of identifying what is legitimately compostable is impossible, even for experts, creating unmanageable amounts of contamination.
Compostable bags often contain and conceal non-compostable contamination. As A1 breaks open these bags, they very often find that the contents are not compostable. To ensure we avoid accepting contamination from the source (businesses and residents), haulers need to check carts and dumpsters before loading them onto the trucks, and they cannot see contamination if it is bagged. Similarly, upon arrival at A1 where loads will be inspected for contamination, A1 inspectors cannot see contamination if it is bagged.
Save money and go bag free! You don’t need to bag your compost. In your indoor compost container, go bag free and rinse out your container after dumping. Put your compostables loose in your cart. If it’s stinky, give it a quick rinse from the hose (do NOT include soap that will create residue in wastewater), swish it around in the cart, and pour the water directly onto your lawn or trees. To protect waterways, do not dump wash water and soap residue into anything that leads to a storm drain. If you have grass clippings or fallen leaves, you can line your curbside compost bin with a thin layer of grass or leaves to help absorb moisture.
Note that there are two exceptions to the “no bag” rule: You ARE allowed to use the small, 3-gallon countertop compostable bags. The brown kraft lawn bags will NOT be accepted throughout the year, but they WILL be accepted during spring and fall curbside collection events, which will be announced by your hauler or municipality.
Compost loads will be rejected by A1 and sent to the landfill at the expense of the hauler. This will increase methane emissions at your local landfill, which is one of the problems we’re trying to avoid by composting. For this reason, haulers will not be picking up any compost loads they deem too contaminated to pass inspection at A1.
Can’t contamination be removed? The recycling facility receives non-recyclable materials, and it gets sorted out and landfilled. Can’t that be done with compost?
The compost stream is not the same as the recycling stream. At a recycling facility, human and robotic sorters see contaminants like plastic bags and pull them off the sorting line by hand. Automatic equipment such as screens and optical sorters help separate materials. In comparison, by the time compostable materials arrive at a compost plant, they are already a gooey mess. Imagine pulling plastic stickers off rotten banana peels, or even pulling plastic bags off decaying material. A certain degree of contamination in sorted recycled products is allowable with recycling markets. Compost is not so lenient. Small pieces of plastic, glass, or aluminum will remain in the finished compost product. Farmers and other compost buyers need the clean, nutrient-dense food scraps and yard trimmings and they don’t want to grow our food using compost contaminated with glass, plastic, and metals.
Are other composters in other states and communities having the same challenge? What is their solution?
A1 is not the only compost processor making these changes. Programs in other early-adopter composting communities, such as Portland, Seattle, Vermont, and California, are also simplifying compost guidelines to include food scraps and yard & plant trimmings ONLY. As the demand for quality compost by farmers and gardeners increases and more communities initiate compost programs to keep organic materials out of our landfills, more compost processors are switching their compost stream to ensure a quality finished product.
NO. Beginning April 1, 2023, A1 has notified us that the inclusion of paper, compostable products, and anything other than food scraps and yard & plant trimmings will result in a rejection of the load and it will be sent to the landfill. Please do NOT include any paper (not even coffee filters or greasy pizza boxes), and no compostable products, even if they are labeled as certified compostable.
Are there things I can be doing to be an eco-friendly diner if I can’t use compostable to-go containers?
- Know before you throw. Become a Zero Waste sorting pro. Check local recycling guidelines to see if your to-go container is recyclable. DO NOT recycle “compostable” to-go containers.
- Use reusables whenever possible. The switch to reusable bags has become a common thing, start the habit of bringing your reusable mug to a coffee shop, stashing a set of silverware in your bag or car for easy access on-the-go, bringing your own reusable to-go containers for leftovers.
- Support reuse businesses: have your takeout coffee packed in a reusable/returnable mug, and your to-go meal packed in reusable containers when ordering from participating restaurants. Reuse service companies are on the rise, with more companies no doubt coming online soon, so encourage your favorite restaurant to join a reuse program to help switch the default away from single-use disposables of any kind, regardless of whether they are recyclable, compostable or landfill.
That is to be determined. A1 is a private, for-profit company; the compostables they receive from businesses, restaurants, schools, institutions, and residents is only a very small portion of their business—and it is the most problematic portion because it has so many contaminants in it. A1 is NOT contracted or otherwise obligated to take the materials we have been generating. As community partners, A1 wants to work with haulers and municipalities along the Front Range to continue to accept material, but they need our help to ensure that it is substantially cleaner. Currently, there is no other compost processor in the Front Range region. The answer is it is still unclear whether and when guidelines will change.
While we cannot predict their future standards, we do know that the goal of producing quality compost, and the health of the planet, is best served by focusing on diverting food and yard waste while reducing the use of disposable single-use products (regardless of whether they are compostable or recyclable). Reducing and reusing can become our priority goals.
What are the solutions to being able to take certified compostable products in the future? What is the vision for composting in our community moving forward?
Because compost is so essential for building healthy soils and as a critical climate solution, creating policies and infrastructure that support the success of compost are becoming key priorities on the state and municipal levels.
New policies are being introduced:
- A new Organics Waste Diversion bill will direct the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to study and make recommendations about banning food and yard trimmings from the landfill and building the infrastructure needed to divert these materials into better uses like compost (this was one of CDPHE’s recommendations from the newly released State Organics Management Plan).
- Eco-Cycle, COPIRG, and CC4CA are working with Senator Lisa Cutter on a Truth in Labeling bill to require all disposable food service products like cups, utensils and take-out containers to be certified compostable and labeled as such or not to contain any labeling that implies greenwashing, like “biodegradable,” or “plant-based,” or “green.” This is to help clean up the contamination from these non-compostable products in our compost stream.
New infrastructure is being researched and proposed:
- Different stakeholders are looking at funding and implementing different infrastructure solutions ranging from prescreening at compost transfer locations to building additional compost infrastructure at other locations.
- Eco-Cycle and other stakeholders are working to create decentralized compost systems for on-farm composting, as well as smaller compost systems that could work for large generators like universities or small communities.
Continue to use your compostable products and landfill these products when you are through using them. We understand that this contradicts your intention and prior guidance, but current conditions demand that they be directed to landfill.
NO. Compostable products are NOT recyclable. Please do NOT put them in the recycling bin where they will have to be removed from the stream and landfilled at an expense to the operator of your local recycling facility.