Avon passes universal recycling ordinance
Starting in Nov. 2023 all residents, businesses and visitors will be required to recycle recyclable materials or face penalties
The Avon Town Council approved a new ordinance Tuesday that will require universal recycling for all residents, commercial entities and visitors in Avon starting on Nov. 1, 2023.
The ordinance requires all residential and commercial properties to register for recycling services with their waste hauler and separate recyclable materials from landfill-bound trash. Once the ordinance goes into effect next fall, compliance will be enforced with fines and other mechanisms that are still being determined.
If a resident does not have access to a trash service, or does not wish to pay for the additional service, they must bring their recyclable materials to one of six free drop-off centers in Eagle County. The closest location for Avon residents is at 375 Yoder Avenue, just past the Home Depot. Owners and associations that arrange shared trash services for multi-family homes will be required to register recycling services for their residents and administer the additional fees as they see fit.
The ordinance will also apply to visitors to Avon, though this commitment is more difficult to enforce. Charlotte Lin, Avon’s sustainability coordinator, said that the onus will be on accommodations to provide recycling options to guests and clear communication of zero-waste values throughout the town.
“Many of our visitors come from places with better recycling systems, and we don’t want them to feel that we’re behind,” Lin said. “We want to demonstrate that we’re a sustainable destination.”
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Following Vail’s lead
Avon is only the second town in Eagle County that has moved to enforce universal recycling, modeling it after the ordinance that the town of Vail adopted in 2014. In the eight years since the ordinance was implemented, the waste diversion rate in Vail (the amount of waste that has been kept out of the landfill as a percentage of total waste) rose from 9% to 35%, outpacing the national average of 32% and state average of 31%.
“Vail’s recycling ordinance was a huge inspiration,” Lin said. “There was a significant improvement because of the ordinance, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve in Avon.”
Vail uses a two-sided enforcement mechanism, where it is illegal for people to dispose of recyclable materials in landfill-bound trash and it is also illegal for haulers to bring recyclable materials to a landfill. By holding both parties responsible, it encourages haulers to educate waste producers so that they are not responsible for identifying unsorted recyclables.
Kristen Bertuglia, director of the Environmental Sustainability Department at the town of Vail, said that the education and enforcement of Vail’s ordinance is an ongoing process, but one that has ultimately been well-received by the community.
“I think in the beginning there are always concerns with some change, and the logistics around change can be a challenge, but by and large people understand the responsibility we have to be a model sustainable destination,” Bertuglia said.
The town of Avon does not currently have access to data on its waste diversion rate. This dearth of data is another problem that the new ordinance will solve, for it requires haulers to generate a report, twice a year, detailing the weight in tons of solid waste and recyclable materials collected in the town of Avon. These reports will enable the town to track its progress and measure the ordinance’s impact over time.
Vail Honeywagon, the county’s primary waste management service, reported that 90% of the households that it serves in Avon are registered for recycling, but Lin and a number of Town Council members said that they do not feel that number reflects the reality on the ground. Even if the registration rate is that high, it does not have a direct correlation with the waste diversion rate.
Though it is estimated that 75% of waste produced in the United States is recyclable, only 35% of it gets recycled and a quarter of recycled goods are contaminated by non-recyclable materials and end up in the landfill anyway.
People with access to recycling may not be using it or may not have the proper information about which materials should be put into recycling, which is why Bertuglia said that education has been the key driver of success in Vail, rather than penalization. Vail designated a staff member to go door to door engaging residents and business owners and performing waste audits, where they would post recycling reminders on bins that were not being utilized.
The town of Avon will begin hosting public forums, possibly as early as next month, to answer questions about recycling and identify pain points for community members in achieving 100% compliance, before rolling out a finalized outreach and enforcement strategy for next year.
Keeping the transition affordable
Lin said that these forums and a town-wide needs analysis will also reveal areas where the town can provide additional support to ease the burden, financial or otherwise, of compliance.
“Affordability is at the heart of how we designed this ordinance,” Lin said. “We definitely want to be able to support people who need the financial support to do this successfully. We are going to take that needs analysis and education-first approach to understand what the needs truly are before we set that kind of support up.”
During the second hearing of the ordinance on Tuesday, the Avon Town Council chose to opt for the use of regular recycling bins versus the animal-resistant models used in Vail to reduce the cost of implementation. The overall cost of education and implementation will be funded by the town’s paper bag fee fund, generated by the 10-cent fees collected at grocery stores.
New state funding also promises to lower the cost of recycling. Earlier this year, Colorado became the first state in the country to adopt a statewide producer responsibility program, creating a circular system where producers of packaging and printed paper fund a statewide recycling program to increase the production and consumption of recycled materials.
The program is only in the beginning stages of development, but Lin said that Avon will be looking to this new source of state funding to help support its local ordinance and ensure that the town’s recycled materials make it to market.
“We’re hopeful that this will eventually lessen the burden of this extra cost for recycling for our multi-family and commercial properties,” Lin said.
A community effort
The Avon Town Council approved the ordinance by a 6-1 vote, with only council member Russell Andrade dissenting on the grounds that if Vail Honeywagon reports a current 90% registration rate, the need is not sufficient for the breadth of the ordinance.
“I think that where we’re actually at right now and where we’re trying to get to is such a small gap that dedicating this much time and effort to something is really not necessary,” Andrade said.
All others agreed that an ordinance is the quickest and most efficient way to increase recycling rates, and placed a strong emphasis on education as the catalyst for significant improvement. Public engagement will guide the implementation of the ordinance over the next 13 months, and residents are encouraged to reach out to Charlotte Lin at email@example.com with any questions or concerns.
“Passing the mandatory recycling ordinance sends a message that says we value nature and we value what makes a town like Avon so great,” Lin said. “It creates a precedent for years to come that shows our youth that we care about their future more than short term losses or minor inconveniences in the present.”