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Will Zero Waste Goals and Thoughtful Throwing Put Some Landfills Out of Business?

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All that recycling, a recessionary drop in the purchase of consumer goods, and the slowing of construction projects mean less garbage is going into landfills around Colorado. That’s a good thing, of course, but it’s also hitting the bottom lines of the landfill companies, Laurie Batchelder Adams, president of Denver-based waste-consulting firm LBA Associates Inc., tells The Denver Post. The 170-acre, taxpayer-owned Larimer County Landfill, for instance, took in more than one million cubic yards of waste in 2000, but just 641,566 cubic yards last year. “We’ve seen basically a downward trend since 2000,” says Stephen Gillette, the county’s director of solid waste, who points out the landfill won’t fill up for at least another 20 years. But, he adds, revenues are down, impacting his budget.

If zero-waste efforts like the one in Boulder County are any indication, landfills will continue their decline. Last month, Boulder county commissioners approved a 91-page Zero Waste Action Plan with strategies for reaching “darn near” the goal of zero waste by 2025, writes the Daily Camera. The plan includes a long list of recommendations, from providing free waste audits for businesses to supporting bans on recyclables, yard waste, and food scraps going into landfills. Portland, Los Angeles, and Austin have resolved to reach similar goals in coming years.

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The New York Times’ Freakonomics blog takes a closer look at the smelly business of garbage. Many cities have toss-as-much-as-you-want systems that lack incentives to lower trash volume. Lisa Skumatz, an economist for a Colorado consulting firm that helps cities deal with their trash, advocates an alternative: the pay-as-you-throw model, which makes people stop and think before they toss. The model could reduce the volume of a person’s trash bin by about 17 percent, with about one-third going to recycling and more used for mulching and as donations.

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