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April 25, 2012
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Balancing business with environment

Money — pretty much everyone is concerned about it. Environment — pretty much everyone is concerned about that, too.How do we improve our economy and create a sustainable community at the same time? That's a key question and it looms at every level of our society, from big business to individual citizens.Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability has been working with Eagle County in recent years to address these problems. On April 3, EVAS presented a 10-year Waste Diversion Implementation Plan to Eagle County commissioners.Waste diversion is a term for everything that does not end up at the landfill — some materials are processed and recycled, some are composted and sometimes waste is not even generated in the first place.The 10-year diversion plan is crafted from studies that began in 2009 with a USDA tri-county grant that included Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties. Another USDA grant was awarded specifically to Eagle County in 2010 to form a waste steering committee and find more ways to divert waste in the Eagle River valley. The committee includes 19 representatives from the county and its municipalities along the Eagle River, the landfill, EVAS, Vail Resorts, waste haulers, waste management and others. Its goal was to identify a variety of short- and long-term plans to:• Reduce the quantity of valuable resources that are currently being wasted.• Reduce the valley's carbon footprint.• Create green jobs.• Support the relatively new Eagle County Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), which is the recycling plant.• Extend the life of the county landfill. Though a request for an official resolution was never made, EVAS is encouraging the county to set an incremental waste diversion goal and adopt some of the proposed plans, as other Eagle County municipalities have done, such as Eagle and Vail.Of course the big question is how to sustainably fund such programs. The 10-year diversion plan is designed to help answer that question but there can be up-front costs associated with any waste diversion goal.Commissioner Jon Stavney said the county is supportive of increasing waste diversion and has been doing very well already. However, it isn't setting an official goal at this time because of the financial risk.“We basically said, ‘Yes, that sounds really good, we'll keep moving in that direction but not as aggressively right now,'” Stavney said.

The Director of Eagle County Solid Waste and Recycling Ken Whitehead encouraged commissioners to be wary of setting goals and implementing plans when financial numbers at the landfill have yet to stabilize. The landfill partially subsidizes the household hazardous waste collection site and the recycling program already. Though the landfill's finances are currently in good shape, income from construction and demolition waste (C&D) has yet to bottom out. “That might happen in 2012 but I don't know,” Whitehead said. “I like to have an idea how I'm going to get to a destination before I set it. If I'm planning a trip to Florida, I start here in Eagle, and with C&D, I don't have a number to start with.”Whitehead cautioned commissioners that implementing a plan too soon could stick the landfill with more subsidies that would result in a rate increase. One of the reasons for the landfill's current fiscal health is that it has one of, if not the lowest rate between the Continental Divide and Rifle. “Trash haulers in Summit County are threatening to go to the Front Range because the landfill rates are so high in Summit,” Whitehead said. “If we end up having to raise our rate, there's always a chance that we will lose business to a landfill that's more competitive.”Basically what all this means is that waste diversion is ideal but less waste going to the landfill means less income for the landfill, which helps fund waste diversion programs.“The county hasn't wavered on that commitment (to waste diversion),” Stavney said. “It's a question of what we can move forward with cash flow. We're probably at our most vulnerable point and we have to stay afloat as we work toward the long-term goal.”

Colorado is a minority when it comes to official recycling or landfill diversion goals — 42 states have them and Colorado is one of eight that doesn't. However, the Environmental Protection Agency is developing a Colorado state diversion measurement standard with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and EVAS is a stakeholder in the process.EVAS Programs Manager John-Ryan Lockman said that the data and measurement of diversion is key for achieving waste diversion goals. Currently, the state doesn't require counties or municipalities to track their waste diversion rates — there is no overall number to provide a complete picture for the state. And to track numbers, a standard of measurement needs to be set. Further, it can be difficult to compare diversion rates between the states because there is no national standard.Lockman has been working hard to establish a clear picture of waste/recycling trends in Eagle County. “Another product of this (2010) grant was that, for the first time, (EVAS) has successfully calculated our diversion rates for the entire county, giving us a measurable metric for waste diversion,” Lockman noted in his presentation to Eagle County commissioners.

In 2010, the county had a total diversion rate of 11.2 percent. That increased to 13.5 percent in 2011. The total diversion rate includes all collected material — residential, commercial and industrial.The municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling rate was 14.7 percent in 2010 and 19.3 percent in 2011. The MSW measurement includes curbside and drop-off recycling, composted organics, electronics and other household hazardous wastes. It essentially represents residential waste diversion.The town of Vail has adopted a goal of reducing landfill waste by 10 percent within five years (2014) and 25 percent within 10 years (2019). The town of Eagle is in the process of adopting a goal.Other cities around the state have adopted goals as well, some more extreme, such as Boulder's goal of 90 percent. Boulder is currently at 54 percent.“I do see us setting a goal at some point but what do you do if you set a goal of 50 percent and you don't get there?” Whitehead said. “I just as soon get there without the goal, and Eagle County has done a good job so far without the goal.”Lockman said balancing business with environmental concerns is difficult.“To increase diversion is a real challenge,” he said. “Things do get recycled — they're too precious not to — but it is very expensive, it comes from the county budget and residents expect it as a service.”

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The VailDaily Updated Apr 25, 2012 01:22PM Published Apr 25, 2012 01:16PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.