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Food scraps and yard waste: That’s all that A1 Organics, the largest composting facility in Colorado, wants you to throw in your compost bin as of April 1 (no joke). That’s a big change from the long list of items that the facility’s composting rules has historically accepted. “We are trying to make it really simple,” says Travis Bahnsen, A1 president. “If you can eat it or cut it off your lawn, it’s probably safe to compost, but when in doubt, throw it out.”
The only permitted, large-scale compost manufacturing facility on the Front Range as of now, A1 works with five major waste haulers (City and County of Denver, Western Disposal Services, and Green for Life among them) and a few boutique subscription waste disposal services between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. If you live along that north-south corridor and get your compost picked up by your local municipality, it’s safe to assume the updated rules apply to your composting habits. Home composters, however, still have free rein.
Here’s your guide to the updated composting rules and the reasons behind them.
What is no longer compostable at A1 facilities
All household paper products have been axed from A1’s list. Now, items like napkins, paper bags, brightly colored paper, paper towels, and greasy pizza boxes won’t be accepted. Neither will any food service ware or product packaging—even items labeled “compostable” should now be thrown in the trash.
“People have been doing these contortions trying to figure out what is and what is not compostable,” says Kathy Carroll, community relations manager for Western Disposal Services, the waste hauler serving Boulder, Broomfield, and adjacent communities. “You don’t have to do that anymore. The changes have made it really, really straightforward for people to tell what to compost.”
Why A1 is making the change
Contamination—namely having too many non-compostable items like pieces of plastic bags, plasticware, fruit stickers, and bits of glass intermixed with the compostable materials—is the culprit behind the updated rules. Despite A1’s advanced methods for screening out these items (including blowers that remove lightweight contaminants like plastic films), the previously loose guidelines often meant there were two or three gallon-size buckets of dime-size contaminants in an otherwise stellar semi-truck-sized load of end-product compost. Even that relatively small amount of contaminated material is too much for A1 to be able to sell to home or commercial gardeners and landscapers.
Compostable food service ware has also led to problems because non-compostable, look-alike products often end up in the mix. “It’s not the compostable fork that’s the problem; it’s the 10 other kinds of forks that come with it,” Bahnsen says. “The intentions are all good, but we need to reset what we’re doing so that we can, as an industry, better control the material coming in on the front end.”
What is compostable
All food items can still be composted, from produce, bread, and cheese to meat (including bones), eggs (and their shells), and coffee grounds. A1 will also accept three-gallon bags, as long as they’re certified by the Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA), so you can continue to collect your kitchen waste in these small bags. Just make sure to remove rubber bands, strings, stickers, and coffee filters from organic material. Tea bags? Nope, they no longer make the cut.
The yard waste category for acceptable compost material includes plant trimmings, leaves, branches, grass, and flowers. Refrain from dumping dirt into the compost bin. If you use large, paper yard bags to collect waste in your yard, be sure to dump the material out of the bag into your compost bin. A1 no longer accepts the paper lawn waste bags except during specified semi-annual yard and leaf clean-up events.
When the updates begin
Technically the changes go into effect starting April 1, but there’s no need to wait. Begin establishing habits that align with the new composting rules now.
Where the opportunity lies
It’s time to move away from single-use products. Bring your own coffee mug when getting java to go from the local cafe. Say no to condiment packages and plastic forks when food gets delivered to your house. Use a metal straw (or no straw at all). “We have come to rely on the idea of using things once,” Carroll says. “Knowing that there is no alternative except the trash maybe will help people think about pivoting and rethinking their consumption in a broad way.”
How to compost
Never composted? No problem. The new guidelines considerably streamline the process of understanding what is and isn’t compostable in A1’s commercial facilities. Now you just need to get started.
- Begin by reaching out to (or perusing the website of) your local waste hauler and signing up for its compost collection service if it’s available.
- Gather food scraps in your home. Many people use small, counter-top receptacles with compostable liners to store the organic waste until dumping it into their larger compost bin outside. Just make sure your liner is less than three gallons and CMA-approved. Another option: Simply collect your compost materials in a small bowl on your counter, store them in your freezer, and put them out the morning of your compost collection.
- Gather yard waste like grass clippings, flowers, branches, and sticks and put it directly into the compost bin that your local municipality picks up. Don’t use a paper yard waste bag.
- Not sure if an item is compostable? Throw it in the trash to avoid contaminating the overall load.
To learn more about A1 Organics and the new composting rules, check out their list of acceptable items here.