Ballot Question to Ask City to Reduce Waste

By Talia Traskos-Hart

I n the years of knocking on doors around Denver for environmental causes, Ean Tafoya, the co-author and co-campaign director of this year’s “Waste No More” ballot initiative, began to notice a common complaint coming from tenants in apartment buildings.

“We were petitioning people to start putting in solar panels, and people were saying, ‘I don’t even have recycling or composting in my building,’” Tafoya recalled. “That’s how we got the idea for Waste No More.”

If the initiative 306 passes, Denver buildings ranging from hospitals to apartment buildings to hotels and restaurants, all of which currently pay for their own trash disposal, would be required to properly separate all recycling and compost from other waste, or face a fine for non-compliance.

The Waste No More initiative is designed to reduce the amount of trash produced by large buildings by filtering out recyclable and compostable materials. Currently, commercial waste accounts for 82% of overall waste in the city.

The initiative would require that information be provided in English and Spanish on how to properly utilize new recycling and compost capabilities. It would also specifically require restaurants to properly dispose of food waste such as oil and grease as well as requiring the proper disposal of materials such as concrete, asphalt, and scrap metal.

Grocery stores, sports venues, farmers markets, office buildings, and country clubs also made it onto the list of relevant “food waste producers” in the initiative. The Waste No More initiative found its place on the ballot after garnering more than 17,000 signatures. It follows other recently embarked upon measures to focus on the environmental impact of waste in Denver: a pay-as-you-throw system for waste collection will be phased in for single-family homes next year and recycling pickups will be switched to weekly rather than biweekly across the city.

Tafoya noted that the general reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with very little “organized opposition.” In September, the initiative gained an overwhelmingly positive endorsement from the Denver Democrats.

“There are even architects and housing contractors who have contacted us saying how can we comply with this,” Tafoya said.

Some groups have expressed points of concern with the measure, however. Drew Hamrick, the senior vice president of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, noted his worry about the spatial issues of this change for apartment buildings and other often crowded buildings located in downtown Denver.

“Imagine a high-rise downtown that has a single trash chute. There’s no mechanism there for recycling,” Hamrick said. “We’re now going to be requiring a compost facility on top of a recycling and trash facility … that’s going to be staggering.”

Tafoya noted that the initiative will be phased in, allowing buildings time to adapt to the changes required of them.

“We wanted to start with the largest businesses making the biggest impact on waste and then move down to the smallest square foot businesses, so that hopefully for the smallest businesses we’ll actually be bringing down the cost overall,” Tafoya explained.

Heading into the final month before election day, Tafoya noted his hope for both this initiative and the power of ballot initiatives in the future.

“You never know until election night, but we’re feeling confident,” he said. “We’ve knocked on the doors of tens of thousands of Denverites who are in favor of this.”

Recalling his experience working on similarly environmentally-oriented ballot initiatives in the past, Tafoya explained his excitement at seeing a new generation of organizers ready to use this unique strategy to influence local politics.

“We always talk about the three branches of government but there’s really a fourth and that’s you and me,” he said. “We’re training the next generation of environmental activists to do this. There’s a new group of leaders who will want to carry this mantle and we’re really excited for it.”

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