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  • Ecosystems
  • Energy
  • Resources
  • Climate Commitment
  • Climate Initiatives Department


Materials, Water and Food

Resources are a focus area of the city's Climate Commitment

The resources we use, waste and generate have a big impact on our natural ecosystems and the climate. It takes significant energy to extract or harvest materials such as food, to transform raw materials into useful products, to transport goods and provide services and to reuse and dispose of materials. 

To reach our climate goals, we need to adopt and develop new ways of sourcing and using resources that make us more productive, less wasteful, and less dependent on outside resources that are often creating impacts elsewhere.

Resources Goal

Reduce the emissions impacts the production and consumption of goods (including food) and services.


Resource Action Areas

By 2025, Boulder will be a zero waste community where residents, business owners, employees and visitors reduce the waste they generate and then reuse, recycle and compost at least 85 percent of what they throw away.

Boulder sends about 4.8 pounds of waste per person per day to the landfill, and more than one third of our community’s total carbon emissions come from resource production and use. That’s a huge impact.

As a community, we currently recycle and compost 57 percent of our waste, compared to San Francisco at 80 percent, and Portland at 70 percent. Making Boulder a zero waste community means minimizing hazardous and solid waste through conscious consumption choices and reuse, recycle and compost opportunities.

By supporting responsible resource use, we will significantly reduce community impacts on the emissions that drive climate change here and in the communities that 

Action Priorities

Ordinance Enforcement

  • Continue to enforce the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, requiring all property owners to provide recycling and compost collection services and requiring businesses to use these services
  • Require all restaurants and grocery stores report compliance with the ordinance by June 30, 2019

Support Community Education

  • Expand community-wide educational efforts on available services, incentives, and facilities as well as proper recycling/composting/source reduction methods
  • Expand community-wide educational efforts on reuse and source reduction opportunities

Improve Infrastructure

  • Deliver expanded multifamily housing assistance program to increase recycling and composting
  • Negotiate with local partners to provide cost-effective and convenient composting operations for all area organics haulers
  • Support improvements to the Boulder County Recycling Center to facilitate processing of additional materials
  • Create a development plan and partnership structure for a new reuse-focused innovation hub at 6400 Arapahoe
  • Collaborate with Boulder County and other partners on developing a regional construction/ demolition recycling facility

Find Ways to Innovate

  • Support state legislative efforts to encourage recycling, reuse and lobby to change state law to allow more stringent restrictions or bans of Styrofoam and other single use plastics 
  • Learn more about how cities can play a role in circular economy 
  • Explore consumption-based accounting method to track and measure GHG emissions from products and packaging produced outside of Boulder but consumed locally
  • Support product stewardship and other legislative efforts at a state and federal levels to reduce the creation of waste.
  • Support shifts in business practices that result in more sustainable purchasing, separating recyclable and compostable materials and avoiding waste.

By 2050, we will manage water as a key resource in stabilizing the climate, producing and storing renewable energy, maintaining natural ecosystems.

It takes energy to heat, treat and pump water and it takes water to produce energy, such as extracting and processing raw materials from the earth and cooling power plants. Reducing our water usage has a ripple effect that can lead to both reduced energy needs and reduced water usage elsewhere. 

Similarly, increasing renewable energy sources not only reduce climate impacts but also use significantly less water to generate energy. Each year, the city’s collective hydropower facilities generates 37 million kWh of electricity-- enough to power approximately 4,600 homes and displace 20,400 tons of coal! 

By using water wisely and producing more electricity using hydropower, we will reduce community emissions.

Action Priorities

  • Complete water supply modeling updates, including evaluation of climate change effects on the city’s water supply
  • Initiate an update to the city’s drought plan starting in late 2019 with emphasis on outreach strategies necessary to achieve demand reductions under various drought scenarios
  • Continue to build upon the city’s instream flow program for the Boulder Creek watershed with emphasis on establishing environmental flows in South Boulder Creek
  • Continue to optimize the water conservation program to meet the community's needs while also emphasizing city water supply and demand management strategies
  • Continue to harness the energy in the city’s water utility system through existing hydroelectric generation while evaluating new hydroelectric opportunities
  • Monitor ongoing Colorado River drought conditions and seek opportunities to participate in and influence Colorado policies in a manner consistent with sound water and environmental stewardship practices


  • Boulder Valley School District (BVSD)  has worked with the city to promote wise water use in schools- both indoors and outdoors. For example, the city works with BVSD to install refillable water bottle stations in schools to better promote drinking tap water, reducing waste from plastic water bottles and recognizing that bottled water consumes 2000 times more energy than tap water.
  • Boulder Housing Partners   has worked with the city to install new low-flow toilets, water efficiency sprinkler heads and other water-saving features. The city and BHP are also working on a submetering pilot to help find system leaks. At one property BHP was able to identify a leak that wasted 8,640 gallons per day; that’s 6 gallons per minute!
  • EPA WaterSense  initiatives, like Fix-a-Leak-Week are supported by the city
  • Center for ReSource Conservation (CRC)  offers multiple city supported programs from low-cost xeriscape gardens to low-flow toilet installs. The CRC also promotes energy efficiency in BVSD schools through the “Renew Our Schools” challenge.
  • Boulder County’s EnergySmart program  helps support wise water and energy use by coordinating low-flow shower head retrofits.
  • Boulder County's Partners for a Clean Environment  provides free water conservation and energy assessments to businesses.

Goal: Minimize the environmental impacy of the Boulder community’s food system.

Growing, producing, packing, transporting and disposing of food has a significant impact on our climate. From seed to farmers’ market and feed to butchers’ counters, significant amounts of water, nutrients, energy and human labor are needed to produce the final grains, produce and meat that end up on our dinner plates.

Further, the methane emissions and deforestation caused by the cattle industry are a significant contributor to rising global temperatures. 

By supporting the expansion of local, sustainable, climate-friendly food production and distribution in and around Boulder, we will reduce our climate impact and community emissions.  

Action Priorities

  • Raise awareness and educate on the topics of food choice and wasted food including:
    • Studying and mapping food streams to identify how much is wasted and where
    • Engage community stakeholders on the topic of wasted food
    • Piloting efforts around wasted food 
    • Creating educational materials on the health and climate benefits of eating plant-based diet
  • Evaluate potential local policies, programs and incentives relating to food choice 
  • Encourage sales of locally-produced vegetables, fruits and cottage foods (when people become producers they develop a greater understanding of the impacts of what they consume).
  • Continued leadership and investment in regional efforts, such as the Boulder County Food Waste Awareness group, a collaborative effort among Boulder County governments, non-profits and businesses.
  • Local Food:  The city's cross-departmental efforts to support sustainable food production practices, equitable access to healthy food, and regional efforts to create a strong and resilient food system
  • Zero Waste Home Page:  Programs and policies to reduce waste in Boulder, including the Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, which requires composting and recycling throughout our community
  • Zero Waste Regulations Information on the city's Universal Zero Waste Ordinance, Trash Tax and Disposable Bag Fee


Other helpful links:

In Paul Hawken’s book, Drawdown, each potential climate solution is measured and modeled to determine its carbon impact through the year 2050, the total and net cost to society, and the total lifetime savings (or cost). The solutions are ranked based on total potential carbon mitigation. Four of the top ten solutions are related to food and land use.

Contact Us

Address Phone Email Director of Climate Initiatives

1101 Arapahoe Ave.

Boulder, CO 80302


[email protected]  

Jonathan Koehn

[email protected]