Trash is booming at the county dump, which is good news for local economy
WOLCOTT — Forget the axiom that says “you are what you eat.” In economic terms, we are what we throw away.
And judging from the numbers compiled at the Eagle County Landfill, Eagle County is robustly trashing stuff at a pace approaching pre-recession levels.
“I look at the construction/demolition numbers as an indicator of how our local economy is doing,” said Eagle County Solid Waste and Recycling Manager Jesse Masten. “2007 was the high point.”
In 2007, the county landfill had 50,701 tons of construction and demolition material and 49,679 tons of compacted trash and a total trash figure of 115,489. tons. That year also saw a record trash day with a 214 vehicle count.
The Great Recession took a while to hit hard in Eagle County, but by 2011 and 2012, the landfill figures reflected the general economic slowdown. In 2011, construction and demolition material had dropped to 16,571 tons and in 2012 the construction and demolition figure was 16,239 tons. But during the next six years, the construction and demolition numbers began a rebound and by 2018 the landfill reported 36,756 tons of construction and demolition materials.
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Last year also saw another milestone. On Aug. 13, 2018, 224 vehicles came across the scale, making it the highest single-day vehicle count ever at the facility.
More to the story
While more tons of construction and demolition material at the landfill is a clear indicator that more building is happening across the county, it isn’t as easy to draw conclusions from compacted trash figures.
Yes, a drop in compacted trash could mean a drop in population. It could also signal a drop in tourist traffic or less commercial activity. Or it could mean something else entirely.
“We opened our hazardous waste facility in 2008 and our MRF (materials recovery/recycling facility) in 2010, all in the middle of a massive recession,” Masten said. “So, some of the drop in the compacted trash numbers is good.”
Because there are so many factors affecting the compacted trash numbers, Masten said it’s tough to draw too many economic conclusions from the data. He noted that, ideally, recycling efforts and hazardous materials diversion efforts will keep the landfill from hitting the peak figures from 2007.
With that said, Masten noted that the landfill just feels busier these days. “Tonnage isn’t the whole story and I am anticipating that this year’s tonnage is not going to be what it was last year,” he said.
For example, Masten noted the Vail Health construction project was in the demolition stage in 2018.
‘We don’t have any massive demolition projects like that going on this summer,” said Masten.
Local construction companies who weathered the Great Recession learned many lessons. One of them is demonstrated daily at the landfill.
“Lots of smaller companies took over their own waste hauling,” Masten said. “Now that cut just equals more profit for them.”
That practice is another factor that has driven down the compacted trash number, Masten noted. And, he added, it contributes to the higher vehicle numbers at the landfill.
Judging by vehicle counts alone, the landfill is busier than ever:
- 2007 — 36,403
- 2008 — 35,591
- 2009 — 29,747
- 2010 — 28,523
- 2011 — 26,604
- 2012 — 25,790
- 2013 — 26,121
- 2014 — 28,332
- 2015 — 31,559
- 2016 — 34,775
- 2017 — 36,949
- 2018 — 40,307
“When looking at all this stuff you had to look at the broad picture and read between the lines,” he said. “But I think bigger vehicle counts mean a better economy and local lessons learned.”