Mitigating climate change locally

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As Coloradans live through summers that climate experts confirm are indeed hotter and drier than the past, we are reminded of the urgency of mitigating climate change by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause it. While it is a relief to see national leaders re-engage on climate protection, Denver is hard at work implementing local action.

Here is an overview of what is happening locally:

Climate Protection Fund

In November 2020, Denverites voted in favor of Ballot Initiative 2A, which raised the local sales and use tax by 0.25% to create the Climate Protection Fund (CPF). Thanks to you, the voters, the CPF is expected to raise an average of $40 million per year to help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Denver, support climate adaptation and create new jobs. The measure is centered in equity and prioritizes the communities most harmed by climate change — low-income households, communities of color and Indigenous people, babies, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities and people with chronic health conditions. The CPF is managed by Denver’s office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency (CASR), which is in the early stages of developing the required spending plan with community input from a Sustainability Advisory Council. For specific questions or inquiries about the Climate Protection Fund, visit bit.ly/DENCASR.

Energize Denver Task Force

Buildings and homes are responsible for 63% of the greenhouse gas emissions in Denver. Renewable energy is important, but we must also reduce overall demand for energy by improving efficiency in buildings. I served on the stakeholder committee that led to the passage of a 2016 policy that requires large commercial and multifamily building owners to measure and publicly report their building’s energy performance. Energy use has already been reduced by an average of .4% annually, just by raising owner awareness. The next critical phase is now underway — developing higher standards for buildings with low energy-efficiency scores to take actions to reduce their climate impacts. To learn more about the work of the current task force, please visit bit.ly/EnergizeDEN.

Disposable bags

Denver residents use more than 100 million disposable bags per year, but fewer than 5% are recycled. In order to cut down on the use of non-recyclable, pollution-prone plastic bags, Denver City Council passed a disposable bag fee to incentivize use of reusable bags. Implementation was delayed last year due to the pandemic, and it will now go into effect this year on July 1. Most retail stores in Denver will charge 10 cents for each disposable carryout bag provided at checkout. The mandatory fee will apply to paper, plastic and even compostable bags. Shoppers can avoid the charge by bringing their own bags. Cities who have adopted similar policies have seen an increase in use of reusable bags and sharp reductions in disposable bags and the litter and waste they cause. The bag fee will be charged at places like grocery, convenience, hardware, liquor and department stores, but does not apply to restaurants, beauty salons and other businesses where retail sales are not the primary business activity. The fee will not apply to bags used to package bulk grocery items, produce or meat. Participants in state and federal food assistance programs will not be charged for carryout bags. More information is available online at www.DenverGov.org/BagFees and at 311 (720-913-1311).

Improving Denver’s waste diversion rate

Improving Denver’s waste diversion rate by increasing recycling and composting use throughout the city remains one of my major priorities. About 75% of Denver’s waste is recyclable or compostable (25% recycling, 50% compostable), yet the city’s recycling and composting rate hovers around 23% — far below the national average of 34%. Volume-based pricing for trash is a national best practice that incentivizes more recycling and composting. Residents are provided with free recycling and composting services and are then charged according to how much trash they throw away. Nearly 40% of residents in the United States use volume-based pricing. Locally, nine Front Range cities have successful volume-based pricing programs to provide fair, cost-effective trash services, and those cities have much higher recycling rates. Increasing Denver’s waste diversion rate through volume-based pricing would result in lower greenhouse gas emissions, conservation of natural resources, less need for landfills, reduction of air and water pollution, and the creation of private sector jobs to process the materials. I am actively working with our partners across the city to imagine what a volume-based pricing program could look like in Denver, and to engage our community in how we can all be a part of the change our planet needs to thrive.

By improving building efficiency, reducing waste and investing in necessary climate infrastructure, the City of Denver is helping protect our climate, quality of life and our economy.

We welcome your ideas on how we can continue and improve our response to climate change. Please email my office at kniechatlarge@denvergov.org or call 720-337-7712 with your thoughts.

Robin Kniech serves as an at-large member of the Denver City Council

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