Perfectly perched in Denver’s foothills, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is one of the most revered concert venues on Earth. It’s also on the leading edge when it comes to sustainability.

First point of order: Concerts tend to generate a lot of trash, and getting everything in the right place requires hard work and attention to detail.

“What stands out in my mind talking about Red Rocks and sustainability is how good they are at waste diversion,” says Katie Zarachowicz, sustainability administrator with Denver Arts and Venues, the city department that manages the amphitheater. “Red Rocks does it really, really well. That’s attributed to the fact that we have a full back-of-house sorting facility. Most people walk by it when they’re going to the venue or going to the visitor center.”

“There’s a standalone waste-sorting operation right in the top of the upper parking lot where our janitorial team sorts everything after our show, so if you’re up there at three in the morning, there’s people sorting out trash from recycling from compost.”

All of that late-night effort is paying off: During the 2023 concert season, Red Rocks had an impressive waste diversion rate of 53 percent. The diversion strategy also involves communicating with concertgoers, but the sorting team is there to catch the inevitable mistakes.

“Getting patrons or the general public to recycle and compost correctly is tricky because the industry makes it tricky in my personal opinion,” says Zarachowicz. “I think I try to be a good steward, but I still get tripped up sometimes about what goes where. So having staff dedicated to that really eliminates the contamination issues and takes some of the guesswork out of it.”


Whereas many venues were tripped up when industrial composter A1 Organics stopped accepting their compostable plates and similar products at their facility northeast of Denver, Red Rocks’ sorting crew has allowed them to continue to send those waste streams to A1.

“With all the food waste that’s sorted out A1 is willing to take what we generate at Red Rocks because it’s so clean,” says Zarachowicz.

“Procuring recyclable and compostable materials is a big part of that, too,” she adds. “Instead of having traditional plastic cups, we have Ball’s aluminum cups right now. We’re transitioning over to using r.Cups, which are fully reusable. We’re phasing that in slowly.”

The Minneapolis-based company behind the cups, r.World, utilizes a network of washing facilities to clean them between concerts. r.World officials say that r.Cups can be washed and reused 300 times, then recycled.

Sustainability is also a key consideration when it comes to renovations and improvements. A 2022 visitor center project brought in LED lighting and water-efficient bathrooms, and the soon-to-reopen Ship Rock Grille will emphasize locally sourced ingredients and locally made furnishings and decor.

Zarachowicz sees sustainability as an ongoing journey at Red Rocks, as the venue will undergo an energy audit to help establish baseline metrics in order to comply with the Energize Denver ordinance in late 2024.

“We’re still determining what the path forward is on that, but there’s a huge opportunity there,” she says.