By Julie Bielenberg
On the last day of February and the last Aspen City Council meeting before the upcoming elections, the current council unanimously approved the strictest composting ordinance of their term and one of the most stringent in the state or the nation.
The city will require all commercial businesses holding a retail food license to separate organics from substances designated for trash disposal.
That means food waste such as a leftover sandwich bun, a squash skin or its seed, and a cornhusk must be disposed of in a stringent manner.
“We emailed all the restaurants all this information, and then we held a Q&A webinar session that we invited the restaurant sector to attend and asked questions and shared out the recording. I think we had about like 10 or 12 participants from restaurant managers, staffers and employees,” said Ainsley Brosnan-Smith, waste diversion and recycling program administrator.
“I think this is something that sets the standard and the desired outcome. It can and will be modified as needed. It’s about going further to find ways to assist these businesses to lessen their impact on our environment,” said outgoing Councilwoman Rachael Richards.
“I think the goal of it is worthy. I think organic waste is a real cause and producer of greenhouse emissions and methane. If we can pull this off, it’s wonderful. It’s a good program, but it has challenges,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “How are they going to educate the restaurant workers to separate the organics? How are they storing the organics in an order-retaining receptacle in an alley? Is this being picked up every couple of days?
“Bears frequent downtown,” he added. “Having organics out is like trolling for a northern pike.”
“I’m advising the best practices when it comes to storing organic material outside and bears,” Brosonan-Smith said. “For smell, there are items like odor neutralizers that can be applied to compost receptacles to cut down on the smell. We can also work with the haulers to increase the frequency of collection if that’s an issue. And if the container is in really bad disrepair, we can swap the container out for a fresher one.”
“Our Department of Environmental Health and Sustainability has allocated existing funds that we could use to subsidize startup costs associated with this ordinance,” Brosonan-Smith said.
They aren’t looking to levy fines if they can help it.
“We are interested in educating and keeping organics out of the trash rather than writing a lot of tickets,” Brosonan-Smith said.
The biggest pushback from the City Council, besides wandering bears, was the start date. Mandating Sept. 1 proved to be too ambitious with Aspen’s notoriously busy summer season and Labor Day weekend. So the council approved an amendment for an Oct. 15 rollout.
Why the restaurants and not the entire community? Several restaurant operators said they didn’t understand the pressure to change hospitality mannerisms before community habits.
“I think it’s a good thing. But why isn’t City Council doing it for everybody? Why wouldn’t residents be obligated to compost? I know we are making our fair share of compost piles. I imagine the entirety of town would be producing more than restaurants,” said Barbara Mendez, the owner of Big Wrap.