Recycling gets messy
There’s no doubt that Eagle County’s recycling program is popular.
Whether or not it is effective is another issue.
At a recent work session, the Eagle County commissioners sought to come up with strategies to create incentives for town and county residents to step up their recycling efforts.
The county has been the sole funder of trash-recycling operations in the county since 1996, operating seven drop-off locations in each of the valley’s towns, and in Edwards. The two major private trash haulers in the valley, Waste Management and Vail Honeywagon, provide curbside recycling for their customers.
Still, Eagle County Solid Waste Manager Ron Rasnic said local recycling efforts since 1996 have diverted only about 2.5 percent of the total 631,584 tons of waste that have come into the landfill.
“That’s not a lot in the whole scheme of things,” observed Rasnic.
County leaders, faced with a limited amount of landfill space, are seeking strategies that would spur citizens to make a more concerted effort at recycling. They also want to address some of the problems that come with recycling.
What’s a “waste?’
Prior to the county assuming responsibility for the valley-wide drop-off program, recycling in the valley was run by a non-profit group called We Recycle. When the program overwhelmed that organization’s small staff, the county, at the urging of citizens, became the lead agency.
For a few years, local towns contributed financially to the recycling effort; but in recent years that responsibility has fallen to the county. It’s not a profit-making venture. Rasnic estimates that for the past two years, the program has cost the county over $160,000 annually.
“It’s a schizophrenic thing. Recycling is a good idea, but it is not cost effective. For the amount of money that we throw at it, it seems like a waste,” says Rasnic, although he’s quick to add that many citizens see recycling as the right thing to do.
“In the whole scheme of things, I don’t know what the answer is,” says Rasnic.
He says what’s needed are improvements to the program.
As the program currently functions, citizens can drop off their recycling at any one of the seven collection sites in the county. The county contracts with Waste Management to provide the trash-truck sized collection containers and haul away the recycle items on a regular basis.
Rasnic says one of the biggest problems with the program is that the collection sites are un-manned. Because there is no supervision, people, either purposefully or unknowingly, have a tendency to drop off unwanted items from household trash to old car tires, mattresses and used refrigerators at the sites.
The subsequent collection of unwanted trash creates an unsightly problem that makes landowners unwilling to make their properties available for recycling operations.
Additionally, pick-up schedules sometimes don’t correspond with usage, resulting in overflowing containers and piled-up debris.
Possible options Rasnic has identified include hiring a recycling coordinator to oversee the entire program, including education, outreach and site supervision. Another option would be to reduce the number of unmanned drop-off sites to two locations, one upvalley and one downvalley, and staff those sites with volunteers or community service workers.
Rasnic noted there are some potential problems with that suggestion. First, larger sites would be required and second, area residents may not be willing to drive out of their way for the sake of recycling.
Summit County has seen some success by providing three manned drop-off sites, which are operated by a nonprofit organization. That solution may not be feasible with the Eagle Valley’s strung-out geography.
Reasons to recycle
At a recent work session, Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone suggested that the county explore ways to “incentivize” towns to take a more active role with recycling, possibly by offering curb-side recycling services. He stressed the need to make recycling convenient for users.
“The majority of the waste stream comes from the towns. How do we motivate them more?” said Stone.
Mike Andrusak of Waste Management said recycling “is a necessary thing to do.”
“To cut costs, you have to get everybody on the same page,” he said.
Andrusak acknowledged that un-manned recycle sites, such as the one at the Eagle County Fairgrounds, are tough to control. He says he sees non-recyclable items at the site several times a week.
“We were hoping that as the years go by, people would tune in. Obviously, the problem hasn’t stopped,” he said.
One option might be a fee structure that rewards recycling. The commissioners asked planners to return with suggestions for making recycling convenient for customers, and more cost-effective for the county.
Meanwhile, the county is contemplating restructuring dump fee schedules. Rasnic has proposed raising the landfill’s tipping fee from $23.10 per ton for compacted waste to $27 per ton for compacted waste, a 16.9 percent increase. The county last raised fees for compacted waste four years ago.
He also proposed an increase in construction waste fees from $43.90 per ton to $45 per ton.
The commissioners will continue their discussion of landfill issues in upcoming weeks during budget sessions.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.