Colorado: Eco-Cycle's Zero Waste Farmers' Market

Boulder, CO

The Boulder farmers' market is a Zero Waste market patronized by 15,000 customers each operating day. Everything sold at the market is either compostable or recyclable and instead of waste bins the market uses “Zero Waste Stations” consisting of two bins, one for compostable items and another for recyclables. Eco-Cycle, a non-profit recycling and Zero Waste service provider, manages the waste stream. Under the contract with Eco-Cycle, vendors are required to use bioplastics. Eco-Cycle purchases the bioplastics in bulk and then resells them to the vendors, thus ensuring that the prices are similar to those paid for the petro-plastic items used previously. Eco-Cycle delivers the compostable material to A-1 Organics, a privately owned and operated composting operation.

Products and Brands Composted: 
  • NatureWorks: Clear cups, lids and straws made of PLA
Collection System: 

Signs at the market inform patrons that everything they purchase for consumption is compostable or recyclable and that they should “pack out any trash” they may have brought from outside the market. There are also signs at each food vendor’s booth reminding customers that everything is compostable or recyclable. The patrons are further guided by a couple of volunteers who stand near “Zero Waste Stations,” which consist of two bins lined with PLA bags, one for compostables another for recyclables. There are also signs at the stations with information on the composting system. Signs use minimal verbiage to show patrons what goes where. There are no waste bins at the market for non-compostable or non-recyclable waste. The Zero Waste concept is also described in newsletters and press releases, and on Saturdays Eco-Cycle staff are available to answer questions. Eco-Cycle emphasizes normalizing food waste composting in the public’s eyes. They educate vendors and customers on the value of saving landfill space, avoiding landfill groundwater pollution and methane generation, and creating a valuable local resource.

Compost Process: 

When the bins are full, Eco-Cycle empties them into “packer” garbage trucks and delivers the material to a privately owned and operated composting operation, A-1 Organics, which is 20 miles away. A-1 Organics is the largest composter in the region with operations at five sites along Colorado’s Front Range and in Wyoming. A-1 Organics uses a static pile system to compost a large variety of feedstocks, from beer waste to biosolids. The composter produces two grades of bagged compost and four grades of bulk compost. They mix the food waste with a like volume of organic bulking agents.

Size of Operation: 

After the first year, the project had diverted 5,800 pounds of compostable material and at the end of September of its second year, it had diverted 13,520 pounds.

Dollars and Sense: 
  • The tipping fees at the local landfill are low at $15 per ton; the program has avoided $120 in expenses.
  • A-1 Organics produces about 16,000 pounds of compost product, which it sells at $30 per cubic yard.
  • To lower the costs of converting to bioplastics, Eco-Cycle purchases the products in bulk and then resells them to the vendors for what they would have paid for petro-plastic items. Since bioplastics increasingly are cost-competitive, Eco-Cycle subsidizes only some packaging items.
  • It may take some time for vendors and customers to learn how to become comfortable with a Zero Waste program.
  • Vendors may be unwilling to convert to bioplastics due to the increased costs incurred.
Tips for Replication: 
  • Buy in bulk to lower costs, vendors will be more responsive to bioplastics when they are cost competitive.
  • Vendors respond well to the positive image the zero-waste initiative gives them with their environmentally aware customers, at no additional cost.
  • Customers do not stop, read and learn; use graphics to educate customers quickly and send out newsletters and press releases to spread information where consumers are more likely to take the time to read it.

Dan Matsch
P.O. Box 19006
Boulder, CO 80308
Phone: 303-444-6640 (Ext. 116)