Denver will implement a new fee-based waste management services program in early 2023 after the council passed the program in an 8-5 vote Monday night.
Council members in favor of the program reiterated that there was no time to waste on taking action on climate change, while those who voted against were very concerned about the impacts of an additional fee on the cost of life for the city’s most vulnerable residents, as well as the lack of a strong education campaign.
Some council members said they heard overwhelming comments from constituents demanding weekly recycling, while others said they heard overwhelming comments against the new fee.
The expanded waste management services program will charge residents of single-family homes and small multi-family buildings a monthly fee based on the size of the trash can they need. The pricing structure will charge $9 for a small trash can, $13 for a medium, and $21 for a large. Recycling and composting will be included at no additional cost, with weekly pick-up services in addition to other solid waste services.
Currently, weekly and fortnightly garbage recycling services are funded from the city’s general fund – to which everyone in the city contributes – with an additional charge for composting. Under the new program, residents will pay based on what they send to landfill rather than what they divert. The fees are not intended to generate new revenue, but rather to pay for the cost of the program.
The program will begin Jan. 1, 2023, with a $3 inconvenience credit given to city residents who have yet to set up their composting services in the first half of the year as the city rolls out the program.
The program also includes an affordability program that would provide eligible households with instant rebates on their bills. Eligibility is based on area median income, with households earning 60% of the AMI getting a 50% discount, those earning 50% of the AMI getting a 75% discount, and those earning 30% of the AMI getting a 100% discount.
Council member Jamie Torres said she agreed with a speaker at Council’s courtesy public hearing on Monday evening who said everyone will eventually pay the price, but that this will not be a question of money. It will be about the climate.
Torres said while the costs will be difficult for many to manage, the future without climate action will only be worse. She said she supports the program knowing that the required outreach will be significant, both to educate the public about the program’s operations and to ensure that those who are eligible for instant discounts can easily enroll.
Council member Paul Kashmann said he had a hard time with the bill because while he understands the struggles voters are having with the cost of living, he also sees the news on climate change getting darker and darker every day. He said Denver is a national leader.
“If we go ahead with this bill, people will follow us and our contribution to reducing climate change will be magnified,” Kashmann said. “If we fail to lead, if we fail to act, it will give justification to some people not to act and again we will reduce our efforts to control climate change.”
Council Member Kevin Flynn reiterated that he and his fellow Council Members who vote against the program do so solely on the basis of fees, not the principle of climate action, which Council Chair Stacie Gilmore, also reiterated as a wildlife biologist. Several council members questioned why the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure had never considered providing free composting in an effort to improve diversion rates.
Other dissenting votes came from Council members Candi CdeBaca, Chris Herndon and Deborah Ortega.
“It’s difficult for me tonight to live in America’s most polluted ZIP code which also happens to be one of the most vulnerable to involuntary displacement,” CdeBaca said. “Every fee counts. I don’t want to support an order that makes the most vulnerable an afterthought, as usual.”
The program is rolling out gradually in early 2023 as DOTI continues to work to hire more drivers and hire inspectors to put the program in the best position for success.