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Recycling mandates for apartment buildings, venues, passing events


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Denver voters approved new rules requiring large apartment buildings, restaurants and a wide range of other commercial businesses to be required to recycle or compost as much trash as possible, according to unofficial election results.

In results updated Friday evening, Order initiated by Denver 306 adopted with more than 69% of the votes. With more than 194,700 ballots counted in the race, the measure was leading by more than 75,000 votes, according to the latest update from the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

There are still 76,000 ballots to be counted in Denver, Electoral Division spokesman Alton Dillard said Friday. Election workers will be in the office Saturday to clear the backlog. But the margin of Order 306 is secure.

The results won’t become official until the election is certified on Nov. 29, according to the city.

The ordinance, dubbed Waste No More Denver by supporters, asked voters to approve sweeping waste diversion rules for industries ranging from food trucks and special events to construction and demolition.

“We’re feeling really good,” said Ean Thomas Tafoya, the ordinance’s lead architect and 2023 Denver mayoral candidate, after the first batch of results were released at 7 p.m. “I think this shows us what we’ve known for a very long time: Denver voters want climate action now.

“I hope this sends a message to our elected leaders that they should implement these policies instead of us coming out and collecting signatures,” to be on the ballot, Tafoya added.

Waste No More Denver would cover all apartment and condo buildings over eight units, businesses that create food waste like restaurants, hospitals, sports venues and food trucks, and require construction and demolition to recover and recycle materials ranging from cardboard to scrap metal. Commercial spaces that do not create food waste should provide recycling services to tenants and employees. Special events like A Taste of Colorado or Underground Music Showcase would be required to come up with waste diversion plans for consideration by the city.

The city would not be required to provide waste hauling services to commercial contributors, but the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure would be responsible for creating comprehensive rules, including setting fines and penalties for violators, depending on the language of the ballot. The city would also review the annual waste management plans of the new class of mandated recyclers and composters. All businesses should provide education on the type of waste that goes where on their premises or at their events.

Opponents of the measure argued in the city’s voter information booklet that Denver was not equipped to oversee such a large increase in its waste disposal oversight responsibilities, even though the city itself same is not responsible for waste collection. Requirements such as having to notify the city every time a company changes waste haulers would be onerous for the companies and the city.

The Metro Denver Home Builders Association was among those speaking out against the measure. On Tuesday evening, association CEO Ted Leighty said that while the construction industry shares a desire to reduce the waste generated in the city, he believes the added burden of new regulations will ultimately lead to increased housing costs in a city facing a housing shortage.

“We are concerned that Denver is not ready to implement this new mandate, which did not include any funds for administration or setting up the infrastructure and facilities to recycle building materials,” Leighty said in a statement. “Furthermore, we are concerned that as this term unfolds, much of the cost, such as transporting waste to out-of-state facilities, will ultimately increase the cost of housing.”

Proponents argue that the city’s climate action goals require commercial businesses and the construction industry to do their part when it comes to diverting waste from landfills. These two segments combined to produce 82% of the waste generated in the city in 2020. They also diverted recyclable and compostable materials at higher rates than single-family homes and small apartment buildings, according to statistics from the town.

The city’s analysis estimates that enforcement mechanisms for the measure could cost up to $2.3 million to implement and $1.9 million to run each year if properties are inspected annually.

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