Doing Your Part: Denver Composts

It’s (past) time to get over composting’s PR problems.

You know those infomercials that have you reaching for your checkbook to help save abandoned pets or kids with cancer—all for less than $1 a day? Yeah, they’ve worked on us, too. That’s why the city’s Denver Composts program should probably consider a new outreach campaign: Help save the planet for only 32 cents a day.

Nearly 50 percent of what Denver residents send to landfills each year is actually compostable. Knowing that, the city implemented a pilot composting program in 2008 and, as of 2017, expanded the service to all single-family homes in the Mile High City. That means diverting organic material from the landfill—where anaerobic decomposition creates loads of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas—is as easy as throwing food scraps, yard clippings, and most paper products into a bin, and dragging it out for collection once a week. Yet only 15 percent of eligible households are currently participating.

The lack of engagement likely can be attributed to several factors. The first is cost. As opposed to the city’s free trash and recycling services, residents must sign up and pay $29.25 per quarter for composting. The second is the alleged smell, which really isn’t any different than the, uh, aroma coming from your trash can. Finally, the program’s small marketing budget means that many Denverites simply don’t know the program is available.

That’s a huge bummer for the environment because households that composted generated roughly 17 fewer pounds of landfill-destined garbage every week than those that didn’t. If every single-family home in Denver composted, 156 million pounds of organic material each year would be diverted. That certainly seems worth 32 cents a day.

Doing Their Part: We Don’t Waste

We Don’t Waste, an 11-year-old, Denver-based food recovery nonprofit, wants to put edible goods into hungry bellies, not into landfills. 5280 asked founder Arlan Preblud, a foodie who turned his query about what restaurants did with their unused comestibles into a mission, to break down the numbers behind our food waste problem and his win-win organization.

36 million: Pounds of food Preblud’s nonprofit has kept out of landfills since 2009.

145 million: Servings of food We Don’t Waste has donated since its inception.

Photo by Sarah Banks

40%: Percentage of food produced in the United States that is thrown away, much of it into landfills.

~50%: Percentage of food distributed by We Don’t Waste that is produce—items that are too often missing from the diets of those who struggle to put food on the table each day.

161: Local food donors—farms, wholesalers, distributors, caterers, restaurants—who give their excess products to We Don’t Waste.

~7 : Days a container of unopened milk can last beyond the “sell by” or “best by” date. “Those dates,” Preblud says, “are a marketing campaign to get people to buy more product. If it smells fine and tastes fine, it likely is fine. We get product that’s past grocers’ made-up dates and feed those in need.”

63 million: Pounds of greenhouse gases We Don’t Waste has prevented from entering the Earth’s atmosphere since 2009—roughly equivalent to keeping 6,200 vehicles off the road for a year.

300%: Percentage increase in demand seen by Preblud’s nonprofit since the beginning of the pandemic. “People who might not normally come to us are coming now,” he says. “They’ve lost their jobs or had their pay cut, and they’re hungry. We have to protect them.”