Can the Vail Valley clean up its recyclables?
EAGLE COUNTY — The community recycling program here is more than 20 years old, but it’s still evolving — and some people still think recycling drop-offs take household trash.
While most valley residents have the option of curbside recycling, the community collection points remain busy. There’s almost always someone leaving recyclables at one of the five collection points in the communities along Interstate 70. That material is then hauled to the Eagle County Landfill near Wolcott, and runs through the recycling facility there. From there, the material is either bundled or smashed into tiny, transportable pieces, then hauled to customers around the country. The facility is known as a “dual stream” processor, because paper and cardboard are brought in separately.
The facility in 2012 and 2013 earned enough to pay for itself. That’s likely to change this year, since Pitkin County decided to switch to “single stream” recycling, in which all recycled material goes into a single bin and is separated at the recycling facility.
While “single stream” is more convenient for residents, it’s more complex for recycling facilities, according to Ken Whitehead, Eagle County director of solid waste and recycling. The complication at a single-stream facility comes two ways, Whitehead said — it’s more labor-intensive and the end product isn’t as clean and is therefore worth less on the market.
KEEPING TRASH OUT OF BINS
On the recycling market, cleaner is better, which gets us back to the community collection centers. Ever since those centers opened, people who haul and process the material have fought some people’s tendency to use the big bins as trash cans.
Whitehead said trash in a load of recyclables at the very least makes more work for the crew at the facility. At worst, it means more stuff going into the landfill.
The Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability grew out of the county’s first community recycling project. Current director Kim Langmaid said keeping trash out of the recyclables is a problem that goes back to those early days.
Langmaid said since recycling programs can be so different from community to community, visitors sometimes get confused about what stuff goes in which bins. Other people, though, either don’t have trash service or just need a place to throw out something big.
The biggest thing Jon Stavney, Eagle town manager, has seen lately at that town’s facility is a hot tub cover — something a residential trash can isn’t likely to hold. But that cover and its owner were reunited thanks to some improvements made to the town’s collection point.
Those improvements include a concrete pad, an on-site compactor for cardboard and, crucially, a security camera. When the hot tub cover turned up, people at the town looked through the security footage, got a license plate number, then tracked down the dumper — who, in an act of governmental charity, didn’t get a ticket for illegal dumping.
Stavney said the amount of trash at the collection center has dropped significantly since the improvements were made.
“People respect it,” Stavney said. “It’s safe, it’s signed and there’s a camera.”
Those signs — written in both English and Spanish — provide a lot of information.
Matt Donovan of Honeywagon, the local trash company that hauls the big bins from communities to the landfill, said those signs should tell people just about everything they need to know. One of the main pieces of advice Donovan had was to break down cardboard boxes. That leaves more space in the bins and requires fewer trips to the landfill.
“Once one person doesn’t break down a box, that leads to other people not doing it,” Donovan said. Once that happens, the bins fill up, and stuff starts to accumulate outside the bins, creating another mess.
With the success of the Eagle project, funded jointly by the town and county, town of Gypsum officials are also looking at improving the recycling drop-off there. Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll said the town and the owners of the Bella’s Market property are currently working on an agreement that would clear the way for another town/county project. Like Eagle, it would have a fence, a compactor and a security camera.
Meanwhile, Langmaid said the Alliance when it can puts interns at other recycling points in the valley, so they can help people better understand the system used here.
That will ultimately help everyone, since taxpayers and people who pay the fees at the landfill — the more money received for the materials shipped out, the better.