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When most of us think about composting our food scraps, we probably envision a bin of banana peels and coffee grounds taking up precious real estate in the backyard. But today, there’s another option to keep organic matter out of landfills, where it leaches climate-change-fueling methane gas into the atmosphere: centralized compost collection.
Compost Colorado (CoCo) is one of a few local companies that fall into this category. Similar to the way that trash and recycling waste is handled, the company’s team picks up food waste (weekly collections start at $33 per month) and takes it to a dedicated location for processing. And now, that dedicated location is about to be a lot closer to home thanks to an influx of cash from the state that will allow CoCo to build the Mile High City’s first major composting facility.
It’s a big step forward for CoCo founder and CEO Van Fussell, who started the business four years ago after moving to Denver and finding out his apartment building, and many suburbs, didn’t have composting services. “Composting is one of the easiest and most effective ways to fight climate change. It not only prevents greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, but it actually creates a living compost soil that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere,” Fussel says. CoCo returns that carbon-trapping agent to its members (who can use it in their gardens or on their lawns), closing the loop and creating a circular economy for food waste. “It turns a problem into a solution,” Fussel says.
CoCo works with residences in suburbs like Arvada and Littleton and fills in the gaps left by the city of Denver’s own program, Denver Composts, which launched in 2017 to serve households in city limits with seven or fewer units. Despite having more than 30,000 users who pay $29 per quarter for weekly pickups, Denver Composts doesn’t pick up from restaurants and large apartment complexes.
In comparison to Denver Composts, CoCo’s footprint is small; it has only about 10 employees and some 2,000 members. It has grown 300 percent each of the past two years, however, and expects that trend to continue, especially if Waste No More passes in November. The ballot initiative would require all Denver businesses—apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants, sporting arenas, hospitals—to provide composting services.
And that, Fussell says, will strain the state’s already limited resources for processing organic matter. Currently, CoCo has to haul most of what it collects nearly 50 miles away, to A1 Organics in Keenesburg. It’s one of only 15 composting facilities in the state—a situation that makes centralized composting not only logistically complicated and expensive, but also less green, considering all the fuel emissions involved. “Everyone involved in the solid waste landscape in Colorado understands that it’s a crisis,” Fussell says. “There’s a critical lack of infrastructure to handle the growing volume of waste.”
That’s why the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment awarded CoCo a $227,000 grant, through its three-year-old Front Range Waste Diversion program, at the end of March to build a Class III composting facility (the largest, most comprehensive classification) in Globeville. Near the new Colorado State University Spur campus, the spot’s easy highway access—“in the armpit of I-25 and I-70,” Fussell says—makes it an ideal location for CoCo’s vans to drop off their collections and will greatly reduce fuel emissions.
Fussell hopes to have the new facility running in about a year and a half. In the meantime, he’s also continuing to build out a system to reduce emissions and waste of all kinds: In addition to receiving an annual compost dividend of the nutrient-rich soil their food scraps decompose into, CoCo members can place orders via an online store for eco-friendly lifestyle products. Items like bamboo toilet paper, liquid soap and shampoo refills, and toothpaste tablets can be dropped off on their next compost pickup day. “It’s all about manifesting the circular economy,” Fussell says. “The ideal outcome of this project is that it’s replicated across the Front Range.”