Recycling changes to come
Vail CO, Colorado
Matt Zalaznick recently lamented the state of recycling in general in our community and the condition of the recycling drop-off sites in particular. As the organization managing those sites, we share Matt’s concerns and frustrations.
Matt suggested that we can do better than overflowing bins and inhospitable sites, and he’s right. When the county agreed to hand over operation of the sites to the Eagle Valley Alliance our goal was to drastically improve recycling in our community by fixing two critical problems.
First, all recycling in our community is limited by the fact that there is no place to bring collected materials. They are currently hauled to Denver and Grand Junction (and some cardboard to Summit County). Recycling is therefore very expensive in our community. Second, our collection system stinks. It is inefficient, difficult to use, unclean and unsightly, and, unfortunately, the best we could do given our situation.
So, those are the problems. What are the solutions? We will replace the hard-to-use “Dumpsters” in inconvenient locations with specialized recycling trailers that are attractive, easy to use and can be located virtually anywhere (e.g. a grocery store parking lot). And importantly, we could haul the trailers ourselves, reducing costs and providing greater program control. You’ll recall our issue, though, with where material goes once we collect it. Summit County now has a facility that can accept our recyclable material. It’s a long, expensive haul, but still cheaper than our current system. We will be piloting one site with a trailer soon and hope to have all sites using trailers by next spring.
The second fix addresses the nagging question, where do you take it once you’ve collected it? Our initial plan envisioned the county building its own recycling collection facility by 2010. We have worked with the county on volume projections, cost and revenue estimates, logistical considerations and other boring due diligence. The result? The county has committed to a facility that could be operational next year ” two years ahead of our hope. This relatively rapid turnaround speaks to the county’s agreement with your assessment that we all can do better. It’s important to note here that few successful recycling programs have ever succeeded without political and top management support. We are fortunate here to have not only the county supporting recycling with a critical new facility, but also the support of the towns in the valley who have all contributed money to the effort.
The first fix is what we all care most about ” a clean, convenient and simple recycling collection program. The second fix is perhaps more critical, however, to long-term possibilities for recycling in our community. Costs will come down, towns could place recycling bins by sidewalk trash cans, condominiums could provide recycling to their tenants, the towns of Eagle and Gypsum could provide curbside service to their residents. Public and private sector recycling services should be available to most county residents after all is said and done.
Many of us came from urban or suburban areas where recycling is simple, convenient and happens without a second thought. The realities of recycling in rural areas (yes, we are rural) are less simple.
But the Eagle Valley Alliance and Eagle County agree with you, Matt, that our community demands and deserves simple, convenient and effective recycling, regardless of the challenges. And that is exactly what we are working to provide.
That said, a successful recycling program depends upon appropriate and responsible use. We expect to expand what materials we can collect, such as other plastics. But despite apparent popular perception, we cannot (and will probably never) accept Styrofoam, trash, deer carcasses, tires, appliances, grass clippings, “trucker bombs” and kayaks.
It’s going to take cooperation and work from everyone in the community to turn this program into something we can point to with pride. We’re not there yet, but the pieces are falling into place. A little more actual reporting in addition to the editorializing from time to time probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Matt Scherr is the president of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. E-mail comments about this column to email@example.com.