Revving up recycling
EAGLE COUNTY – Over the recent holidays, recycling trucks couldn’t keep up with the demand. Local recycle bins overflowed, and still people kept dropping off trash. The downvalley recycling sites were a mess. The cardboard recycling alone was overwhelming.The Eagle Valley Alliance, the local nonprofit that oversees recycling operations in the valley, rented a 26-foot moving truck, made four extra trips and spent 48 hours hauling away 4.5 extra tons – 9,000 pounds – of cardboard.”After the last holiday and the mess at the recycling sites, I don’t think anybody in their right mind would say we don’t need a (better) system right now,” says Matt Scherr, director of the alliance.A better system is exactly what Eagle County officials who operate the county landfill north of Wolcott say they’re working toward. The county is considering changing the fees it charges to use the landfill to encourage curbside recycling programs throughout the valley. For Eagle and Gypsum, curbside recycling may be coming soon.”We’re looking at the entire valleywide recycling program, and trying to maximize the potential,” says Eagle County Solid Waste Manager Ron Rasnic. He estimates that 30 percent to 35 percent of the compacted waste stream is potentially recyclable.”Recycling does reduce the amount of waste being landfilled, but we need to be more aggressive about it to make a real impact,” Rasnic said. “If we can refine our countywide collection program and involve the towns to a greater extent, I think we can really increase the amount of material being collected.Eagle and Gypsum are the only towns in the county that have their own trash-hauling services. Private trash haulers upvalley pick up recycleables at the curbside in some areas.
Recycling downvalley and in areas where there’s no curbside pick up takes more effort – citizens must collect and store their recyclables, then haul them to designated Dumpsters.Scherr said the drop-off system is the most economical method of recycling – but time has shown that curbside recycling draws the highest participation.”It’s right on your doorstep,” he said.Eagle resident Robin Geist isn’t currently a recycler – she said she doesn’t have the time to collect the items and haul them to the recycle bin. She said she would gladly participate in curbside recycling, and would be willing to pay a higher garbage bill for the convenience.”It’s for the environment,” she said.Brush Creek resident Annie Egan said she is a dedicated recycler. She’s been honored with the Mauri Nottingham Environmental Award for her efforts to reduce waste in local communities. She said recycling can take a little as a few minutes of effort weekly.”I’m one of the busiest people in world, but I’m also committed to recycling,” she said. “It’s also a matter of looking at what kind of future you want your kids to inherit … do you want them to inherit a trashy world, or a cleaner world?”
The county provides the bulk of the financial support – about $200,000 a year – for the recycling programs. Towns contribute a much smaller amount. This year, Eagle budgeted $2,000 to keep the drop-off sites cleaner.
The county does not have a place for managing the collected recycled materials. That means the bins must be hauled away to out-of-county processing centers.”It’s all about the transportation costs. That’s killing us right now,” Rasnic said.The county is looking into the cost of building a “transfer station” at the landfill. The station would be a bare-bones building where collected recycled material would be consolidated into open-topped semi-truck trailers for transport to processing facilities in Summit County, Grand Junction or the Front Range. The transfer station minimizes transportation costs by shipping materials in large containers.Rasnic said initial studies indicate the cost of a transfer station could be around $2.5 million. The county recently raised fees for dumping trash at the landfill. It costs the $28.72 to dump a ton of trash and that will go up next January to $33.03 per ton.There’s another incentive for recycling built into the county regulations. There will be an additional 10 percent surcharge for waste haulers who do not make curbside recycling available to the majority of their customers. That surcharge would kick in when the recycling transfer station is in place, most likely this fall.That surcharge has Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll somewhat concerned. “My beef with this is it’s an unfunded mandate that is not being applied uniformly across the board,” he said. “At the same time, and on a more positive note, I think it’s time to have a curbside program.”County Manager Bruce Baumgartner said the surcharge won’t go into effect until the transfer station is completed. And if the towns are offering curbside recycling, that fee will never be charged. Meanwhile, he says the county and towns will keep talking.”We would like to figure out a way to include the communities of Eagle and Gypsum in offering citizens recycling,” he says.Like Gypsum, the town of Eagle is taking a look at curbside recycling, Town Manager Willy Powell said.Currently, trash service to a single family home in the town of Eagle is $18 – about half the cost of the same service from a private hauler. Powell said curbside recycling would likely be popular with citizens.
Bill Carlson, environmental health officer and planner for the town of Vail, said the transfer station will give the county the ability to accept more recyclables, and divert more material from the landfill.”When thinking about recycling, you have to think big to make it effective,” he said. “It is very exciting – such a wonderful thing to happen in Eagle County.”County and town leaders have had preliminary discussions about the recycling changes. Baumgartner said the county is willing to help out – perhaps with the purchase of a truck for hauling recycled materials.”We would be interested to see what we can do to help the towns get in the recycling business,” says Baumgartner. It’s possible the towns of Eagle and Gypsum could share some equipment.Carlson says he’s optimistic about the future of county recycling. “It just gives the every day, average Joe, a chance to do something for the environment,” he says.