Dec 5, 2022 - News

Denver's pay-as-you-throw program poised to debut — with delays

Illustration of a dollar sign formed by recycled plastic items.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The city of Denver has received thousands of requests from residents to downsize their trash bins in the lead up to its new pay-as-you-throw system launching next month.

Driving the news: With at least 8,200 such requests, the city’s 311 is telling Denverites who want smaller cans — the least expensive at $9 per month — to expect delivery delays, possibly into 2023.

  • The city did not confirm how many of those requests had been fulfilled as of Friday, but says its new bins are being delivered on average within a week after they're requested, spokesperson Vanessa Lacayo tells Axios Denver.
  • Lacayo says the city wants residents to wait until they get compost bins before ordering the small-sized cans, as they expect customers to have a better idea of how much waste they produce by then.

Catch up quick: Denver City Council approved the program in June, giving residents three bin options with three price points, and providing weekly recycling and composting for all.

  • The changes will affect about 180,000 customers who have their trash picked up by the city.
  • It's part of a broader effort to improve Denver's diversion rate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Yes, but: Even though residents are paying for the new services, many won't receive composting pickup right away. The city plans to phase that in starting next summer.

  • About 30,000 customers currently use the service.
  • Lacayo noted it's "nearly impossible" to put out roughly 150,000 new composting bins in one day.
  • The city has ordered 25 compost trucks, which Lacayo said will arrive throughout the year, along with additional compost bins.

Threat level: City Auditor Timothy O'Brien issued a report in November warning that staffing, aging trucks and lack of planning could impact the city's roll- out timeline, according to the Colorado Sun.

  • The review "took on added urgency," per the Sun, given customer complaints about dropped or delayed service this year and concerns about the expanded program.
  • "Given the city's strained resources, the expansion of recycling and compost service next year will be a significant burden that might not come with the hoped-for environmental benefits," per a statement from O'Brien.

The other side: Lacayo said the audit took a snapshot from earlier in the year, and didn't reflect the latest changes DOTI completed since City Council approved the program.

What to watch: Lacayo said homeowners will be billed quarterly, with the first expected between January and March.

  • Weekly recycling will start the first week of January, and Lacayo said the city wants people to take out their recycling the same day as their trash.
  • The city hired 11 new drivers, and needs more, offering $5,000 signing bonuses and hourly wages between $21.70 and $32.55 an hour to ensure the jobs are filled. The city did not provide details about the number of vacancies it needs to fill for the program to be at full capacity.

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