The City of Boulder tracks its waste diversion in two ways to help understand our waste habits as a community.
Annual Waste Diversion is calculated by dividing the total diverted waste (recycled, composted and reused materials kept out of the landfill) by the total generated waste (diverted materials and landfilled materials). This statistic includes all four waste streams (trash, recycling, organics, reuse) and several services including curbside collection, roll-off, construction & demolition (C&D), drop-off centers and many more. Because data are self-reported and there are so many different wastes contributing to the Annual Waste Diversion, the diversion rate can change significantly year to year, especially with contributions from things like construction and natural disasters that vary widely and unpredictably. In 2019, in an effort to improve the accuracy of the data collected, the City implemented new data quality controls to analyze all hauler submitted waste reports. In doing so, errors were found and fixed, and new drop-off waste data was able to be integrated for the first time due to improved accuracy. While these more stringent data practices resulted in a lower diversion rate from prior years, the capturing of more and improved data provides us with a clearer more transparent indication of waste diversion in our community.
Curbside Collection Diversion isolates waste discarded in dumpsters and carts and collected on a regular basis. Curbside collection does not include C&D, roll-off, drop-off center, or reuse waste. Separating out curbside collection waste gives us a consistent representation of what the community is throwing out and is a useful statistic for tracking our community behavior in correlation with the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance.
Tracking waste diversion illustrates and quantifies how much waste we are generating as a community and how we dispose of it. Analysis of waste data helps city staff understand the effectiveness of policies and waste reduction efforts and allows us to make informed decisions about how to make progress towards becoming a zero waste community.
Boulder attempts to capture and account for all waste streams, but diversion rates are a dynamic calculation. Unlike greenhouse gas inventories, which have well established protocols across cities and even countries, no two cities account for waste diversion in the same way. Not only are different wastes calculated in different ways, the technology we use and processes in which we track data are also continually evolving. These variances make it difficult to compare to other cities. As we move toward our zero waste goal, Boulder aims to track our waste habits in the most comprehensive and transparent way possible, with the hope of developing a universal standard in the future.
In 2006, City Council adopted the Zero Waste Resolution and the Zero Waste Strategic Plan. The strategic plan established a target of 85% waste diversion by the year 2025. An 85% percent diversion rate or above is recognized internationally as the definition of a zero waste community.
While our overall diversion rate is increasing over time, there is still more work to be done to reach our goal of 85% by 2025. Variables beyond our control, including the economic climate and natural disasters, can have a substantial effect on our consumption and waste disposal, which is why the city has implemented several sustainability initiatives to help guide our community towards zero waste. These include the expansion of curbside recycling and composting services to all residents as well as the adoption of the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, a local law which requires all property and business owners to recycle and compost.