EAGLE COUNTY – Yogurt cups, cereal boxes, soap dispensers and honey bottles.Look at the underside of these items and all have a triangle with a number inside indicating it’s recyclable. And technically they are, but not here.That’s because in Eagle County residents can only recycle certain types of plastics and cardboard, which means everything else that could be recycled gets thrown in the trash. It’s frustrating, said Alan Bryant, an Eagle resident determined to recycle as much as he can. He has even started cutting the tin off his orange juice concentrate cans because it’s the only recyclable part of the package.Bryant wants Eagle County, which contracts its recycling program to Waste Management Services, to do something about it.”I would like the county to basically force those commercial garbage collection agencies to recycle everything,” he said. How it works hereFew recycling programs in Colorado do much more than what Eagle County does, said Marjorie Griek, spokeswoman for the Colorado Association for Recycling. Some exceptions are Fort Collins, Loveland and Pitkin County, she said.
“The really good programs in Colorado are few and far between,” Griek said, “And what they will accept in their programs has to do with markets.”By that Griek means the companies that use the recycled product for new products. There are plenty of companies that will use recycled No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, said Ron Rasnic, the Eagle County’s solid waste manager. But the market for other types of plastics just isn’t there, he said. Nevertheless, those other types of plastics frequently are thrown in one of the county’s seven recycling drop-off centers. Waste Management Services, Inc., which Eagle County has hired to collect and sort recyclable items, takes all recycling to a sorting center in Grand Junction. There, the other types of plastics are sorted out and thrown away, Rasnic said. “It does not come back here,” he said. Eagle County recycles about 2,000 to 2,500 tons of material each year. About 5 percent to 10 percent of items thrown in the recycling bins end up in the trash, Rasnic said.How it works elsewhereMoney may dictate the type of recycling program in Eagle County, but other counties still have managed to run programs that do more. Fort Collins, for example, requires any commercial hauler to offer recycling. Those haulers have to be licensed, Griek said. Loveland collects trash for residents, but everyone living in the city must also pay a fee to cover recycling costs, whether they recycle or not. Also, there is a limit to how much trash a Loveland resident can throw away. Anything above the limit warrants an extra charge.
“This encourages people to put out more recyclables,” Griek said. Nearby Pitkin County’s recycling program is a direct response to its rapidly filling landfill. Finding another landfill is expensive and difficult, so the county has opted to increase the amount of things that can be recycled to extend the life of the landfill, said Chris Hoofnagle, solids waste manager for Pitkin County. Pitkin County’s drop-off recycling program mirrors that of Eagle County. However, in addition to recycling the traditional items, Pitkin County has a composting facility, accepts scrap metal, dirt, rock and tires, to name a few. As a result, the landfill is filling up much more slowly. In 2001, Pitkin County threw away 144,000 cubic yards of trash. In 2003, that figure was 90,000 cubic yards. Hoofnagle credits that drop primarily with its dirt and rock recycling. Composting is the money-maker, however. Pitkin County charges $20 a cubic yard for compost waste and sells about 5,000 cubic yards a year, Hoofnagle said. “It diverts a ton of organic waste,” he said. “Landscapers buy us out in inventory every year.”Room for changeEagle County’s landfill is about 14 years away from being full, Rasnic said. Even after that, there is plenty of land around the landfill to expand, he said.
And he doesn’t expect the county’s recycling program to change any time soon. “But things change, of course,” he said. “The main focus is on the No. 1 and No. 2 plastics.”Colorado has the second lowest tip fees – the charge to dump trash in a public landfill – in the country, Griek said. “It’s really hard to fight when it’s that cheap to just throw stuff in the ground,” she said. “It’s difficult for recycling to compete with that.”Studies also show that young adults actually are less likely to recycle than other age groups, Griek said. When Bryant complained to Waste Management Services about the recycling program, he was told to call local grocery stores and ask them to only carry items containing products that can be recycled in Eagle County. But he doesn’t think that would be effective. Instead he thinks the county should start calling the shots. He’s even willing to pay a little more to have more recycled. And he thinks the local commercial hauler should be willing to profit a little less. “This is the largest waste management firm in the world,” he said. “For all the business they do in this county, they probably could take a little hit.” Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or firstname.lastname@example.org.