How we move materials matters in a circular economy


Approximately 10,000 trucks travel Interstate 25 near Brighton on average each day. What if 9 percent of those could travel on an alternate, two-lane divided highway? That’s just one scenario that would help solve the challenge of growing the circular economy in Colorado. Participants in the Circular Economy Development Center’s regional stakeholder meetings repeatedly identify transportation as a major obstacle to reusing and recycling our waste materials.

Improving transportation in the context of a circular economy can be addressed several ways: using a renewable form of energy to power vehicles, easing congestion on crowded highways, using an alternative such as rail and more efficiently using space in transport vehicles. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that, in 2019, one out of four trucks ran empty.

One solution that has been explored is an alternative transportation corridor to Interstate 25, which sees heavy traffic congestion as it moves through the major urban and suburban communities along the Front Range.  The route would utilize Highway 71 in eastern Colorado and is known as the Heartland Expressway. It is one of three federally designated high-priority corridors that make up the Ports to Plains Alliance. A truck freight feasibility study prepared for the Colorado Department of Transportation in May 2020 indicates that moving truck freight to Highway 71 would decrease truck traffic on I-25 by between 5 and 9 percent.  

Reducing the total distance that materials travel is another way to address the challenge of transportation. A new travel corridor could add economic value to a region by enabling manufacturing and distribution opportunities and helping to establish local end markets for materials.

And that is the goal of the Circular Economy Development Center, launched in July as a program of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to expand existing markets and create new markets for materials that Coloradans recycle.