What is a Circular Economy? 

Circular economies are resilient and regenerative systems that rethink how materials are produced, used and discarded. They reuse, repair and recirculate existing products and materials for as long as possible. Once materials reach the end of their life, they are recycled and transformed into new products.

Learn more about circular economies.

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Nine reusable containers in a kitchen

Reduce and Reuse, Then Recycle

Recycling is a critical part of our journey to become a zero waste community, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.

Reducing our consumption and reusing instead of buying new are powerful ways to shrink our collective environmental impact, while supporting a more circular economy and creating less waste to divert from the landfill.

The Circular Boulder Vision

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Linear versus circular economy
Metabolic

Our vision is to build a more circular local economy that keeps materials out of landfills and in use as much as possible. This growing area of work moves beyond recycling and composting to focus on preventing waste and pollution in the first place. It also explores innovative ways to curb Boulder’s collective consumption through reuse and repair.

Circular systems are regenerative and resilient by design. They save energy, natural resources and money while reducing our community's greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to the landfill – helping Boulder reach 85% waste diversion by 2025 and carbon neutrality by 2035.

Building Boulder’s circular economy is community-wide effort taking shape through partnerships between the city, local nonprofits, governments and businesses. Learn more about the partnerships that make this work possible.

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Circular Boulder vision
Emma Ruffin

Consider Embodied Emissions

Everything we buy contains embodied emissions, the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the creation and shipment of goods.

The city’s Circular Economy report shows that embodied emissions in Boulder are greater than the total of all of Boulder’s other local emissions put together including electricity, transportation and natural gas. That means even a small reduction in the number of new products we purchase can have a big impact.

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Two graphics showing Boulder's collective embodied emissions
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The Big Picture

Colorado has passed landmark legislation that tackles plastic pollution and transforms recycling systems across the state.

  • Plastic Pollution Reduction Act [HB 21-1162]: phases out two major single-use plastics. The law bans single-use plastic shopping bags in certain stores and Polystyrene containers, commonly called Styrofoam, in food establishments. Both bans take effect on January 1, 2024. Large stores are also required to apply a 10-cent bag fee for both single-use plastic and paper bags starting on January 1, 2023. The state law is a "floor" and local municipalities may enact more comprehensive bag fees.

City Council will be discussing necessary changes to Boulder's Bag Fee this summer to ensure compliance with requirements outlined in the Plastic Pollution Reduction Act.

  • Producer Responsibility Program [HB 22-1355]: expands recycling accessibility, reduces packaging waste and builds more resilient domestic supply chains for recycled materials. In passing this law, Colorado became the first state to require companies that sell cardboard, printed paper, glass, metal and plastic packaging in Colorado to pay for a statewide recycling system. This is a major step forward in providing recycling services to all Coloradans that shifts some of the burden of dealing with consumer waste to the producers that create it. Learn more about the program.

Building Circular Boulder is part of a global effort to reshape local, state and national economies in service of equity and sustainability. In the words of Oxford economist Kate Raworth: "If we're going to turn this around, we need to bring economic ideas and theories, government policies, business models and community action of our own."

Listen to a clip from our conversation with Kate Raworth:

Kate Raworth, Author and Economist:

If we’re going to solve this – if we’re going to turn this story around, we need to bring economic ideas and theories, and governmental policies, and business models and community action of our own. We need our own ideas. Now, some people find that utterly overwhelming, others see it as that incredible opportunity of a lifetime to redesign our economies in ways that we already knew we needed to. We need to take today’s linear, degenerative industrial economy that runs down the living world, we take, make, use and throw it away – we need to bend those arrows around so that we create a cyclical, circular, regenerative economy in which resources are not used up, they’re used again, and again far more carefully, collectively, creatively and slowly. So that we then belong on this planet because we work with and within the cycles of this living world. We belong within planetary boundaries and that is the boundary for our economy.

Watch a full length conversation with Raworth, hosted by the city.

Composting is Circular

Composting is another way to participate in our circular economy. Whether it takes place in your backyard bin or in a large-scale facility, the composting process gives food scraps, greasy cardboard and yard debris a new life, turning them into a nutrient rich soil amendment that nourishes our farms and natural communities.

Healthy compost also prevents soil erosion, retains water and stores carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas emission. Learn how compost is a tool for regeneration.

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Food scraps turning into soil supporting a small plant.

Ready to go beyond curbside composting? Learn how to get involved with local composting projects by checking out Cool Boulder, a long-term campaign to carry out natural climate solutions through community-wide partnerships.

Help Make Healthy Compost

Explore the City’s Circularity Projects and Partnerships

6400 Arapahoe

6400 Arapahoe is the city’s hub for reuse, recycling and innovation run by community-based nonprofits and city partners Eco-Cycle and Resource Central.

Repeater Reusables

The city has partnered with local company Repeater to keep takeout containers out of the landfill. Boulder diners can request reusable takeout containers at participating restaurants by downloading and using the Repeater app.

Don’t see your favorite restaurant on Repeater's list of participating restaurants? Ask the restaurant to join!

Community Cycles Tire Recycling

Local bike tire recycling is made possible by a partnership between the city, Community Cycles and Eco-Cycle. Used tires in good working condition are resold in the Community Cycles bike shop, while worn out tires beyond repair are redirected to local companies for reuse.

The nonprofit also offers bike repair workshops, used bikes and bike accessories, and access to repair tools and staff assistance in their DIY Bike Shop.

Learn more by reading the city’s newsroom blog.

Tennis Ball Recycling

Community members can recycle any brand, condition or color of tennis ball for free. This program is made possible by a partnership between the city and Vermont nonprofit Recycle Balls. Tennis balls are transformed into horse arena footing and dog toys.

Learn more by reading the city’s newsroom blog.

We are also working toward zero waste.

Our city is working to divert 85% of waste from landfills by 2025, a milestone used internationally to define a zero waste community.

Universal Zero Waste Ordinance (UZWO)

The UZWO is one of many community-wide efforts in pursuit of Boulder’s zero waste future. It requires that all residential and commercial properties, businesses and special events in Boulder have separated collections and compliant signs for compostable materials, recycling and landfill-bound trash.

Explore Eco-Cycle's A to Z Guide to learn what goes in your trash, recycling and compost bin, and where to bring hard-to-recycle and donations for reuse.

Learn About Zero Waste in Boulder