Known for his penchant for environmentally friendly policies, Denver City Councilman Jolon Clark celebrated late last year when he and his colleagues approved a plastic bag fee. He hoped the measure would encourage recycling, reduce the amount of single-use plastics hitting Denver’s landfills and spark a war on plastics. The war could then extend toward styrofoam containers and other single-use materials, he said.
But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, delaying not only Clark’s war and the start of the plastic bag fees but also generating more trash and recycling for the city’s solid waste division, pushing its staff to the limit. City officials have also paused talks of launching a pay-as-you-throw garbage collection system as well, among other things. “Like many things the COVID has brought to its knees,” Clark said with a sad laugh.
The need for these measures hasn’t gone away, he said. Rather, it’s increased. But the city missed the opportunity. Now facing an economic crisis, Denver likely can’t afford to launch a new program — not in the short term, anyway — and residents can’t afford any changes on their utility bills. So they’ll wait, Clark said. Indeed, Denverites are throwing more trash into their home containers, recycling at a higher rate and composting more, said Charlotte Pitt, interim director of Denver’s Solid Waste Division. “People are now staying at home, working at home, getting more stuff delivered,” Pitt said. “It’s just natural that we’re going to see more waste.”