An event with recycling by Eco-Cycle. Courtesy photo

Why Boulder’s a Recycling Leader


Boulder is a green leader and environmental champion. It was even named a Climate Action Champion by the White House in 2016.

Living Earth-friendly is a way of life in Boulder.

For example, there’s a special program just to help local businesses reduce waste; you can find compost bins all along the Pearl Street Mall; and the city is working to become a zero-waste community. By 2025, it aims to recycle 85 percent of its waste. 

Boulder’s also home to one of the country’s biggest nonprofit recyclers, Eco-Cycle. Eco-Cycle is known internationally as a leader in resource conservation. Along with the Boulder County Recycling Center, Eco-Cycle offers 24/7 recycling at its drop-off center.

But this is not your regular recycling facility.

Eco-Cycle boasts a long list of awards (including being named Colorado Recycler of the Year for Most Unique Program) and programs that make it unlike anywhere else of its kind.

Eco-Cycle’s history dates back to 1976, making it one of the first 20 communities in the nation to offer curbside recycling for residents. And over the years, Eco-Cycle has earned many “firsts.”

It was Colorado’s very first post-consumer, multi-material recycling facility.

It also offered the first school recycling program in the state; the first commingled sorting system in Colorado; and it’s one of the only places in the country that continuously accepts glass. Eco-Cycle was key to holding the country’s first-ever zero-waste event, Rhythm on the River in Longmont, as well as the nation’s first ongoing zero-waste event, the Boulder Farmers Market.

An Eco-Cycle zero-waste station. Courtesy photo

Boulder is also home to the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (known as CHaRM for short), 6400 Arapahoe Road, Boulder, which was the first facility of its kind in the nation. It takes in unusual materials, from plastic bags to electronics, for reuse and recycling.

More recently, Eco-Cycle released the “A-Z Recycling Guide” to help people understand what, where and how to recycle hundreds of different materials. You can even download an app to use. Eco-Cycle pioneered this concept, and it has since been copied by communities around the country.

Today, among its many services, Eco-Cycle offers recycling services to more than 800 area businesses and runs educational programs for more than 25,000 kids in about 1,000 local classrooms every year.

One thing that makes the recycling program in Boulder so different is Eco-Cycle is a social enterprise, meaning it uses a business model to meet social goals. It’s not just a for-profit company. All revenues from its programs and services go back into the community to fund education, outreach and other environmental work. The purpose is not to make money, but rather to fulfill its social and environmental mission.

A recycle area at Eco-Cycle. Courtesy photo

Get Involved

Whether you’re a resident or a visitor (short- or longer-term), there are many ways you can get involved and learn more about Boulder’s unique recycling scene. Many are actually quite entertaining.

The Boulder County Recycling Center, 1901 63rd St., Boulder, offers tours of its facility, where you can learn about and witness all aspects of the recycling process. Take a self-guided tour from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (except holidays).

Local tip: Make sure you arrive before 3 p.m. if you want to watch the sorting lines (where people and machines sort all the items), because that’s when they shut down.

If you’re with a group of 10 or more, you can set up an hour-long or 90-minute guided tour for free. Set it up between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. every weekday except Wednesdays and holidays. After your tour, head to the Education Center for lunch, which you can book in advance. The group tours are ideal for schools, clubs and summer camps.

While at the recycling center, take time to visit the educational exhibits to learn about how different items are sorted, shipped and recycled. Take time to look out over the processing center to see it all in live-action. Other exhibits teach about how different materials are made and why it’s important to recycle them.

The Eco-Cycle building with the Flatirons in the background. Courtesy photo

Another unique way to learn about Boulder’s recycling is by visiting the Hazardous Materials Management Facility, 1901 63rd St., Boulder. Here, people donate unwanted materials that you can take and reuse for free. Things you may find at this totally free and environmentally friendly “shop” include spray paint, latex paint, yard products, car products, cleaning supplies and more. Got an old chair or dresser you want to paint and spruce up?  Working on an art project?

Find your supplies here for free.

In fact, the HazMat facility offers a Reuse In Action Contest, where people are invited to submit photos and descriptions of their unique creations using reused materials from the facility. Winners are selected randomly and get a gift card. For example, one local artist won for a mural using recycled paint on whitewashed wood.

Beyond (obviously) recycling at your home and work (or hotel room), there are other ways to get involved. You can volunteer at Eco-Cycle or learn about its various campaigns, such as the Community Carbon Farming Campaign or Green Star Zero Waste Lyons, which aims to make the Boulder County town of Lyons a model zero-waste community for other small towns to emulate.

A wall of materials outside Eco-Cycle. Courtesy photo

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