Vail Valley: County recycling center is something to see
This week I had the opportunity to tour the new Eagle County Materials Recycling Facility located at the Eagle County Landfill. After my tour with director Ron Rasnic and manager Jesse Masten, my reaction was, “Wow! I wish every resident could see this amazing facility since it inspired me to do a better job recycling at both my work place and at home!’ Not a penny of taxpayer money was spent on this $5.9 million automated facility, which opened in January of this year. Instead, cash reserves collected at the landfill were used to fund this project. The recycling facility sorts, crushes and bundles like-kind recyclable materials so they can be sold to the highest bidder and trucked away.A large percentage of our local community members have been avid recyclers for years. Many started when Mauri Nottingham led the charge to set up recycle drop-off centers almost 20 years ago. On the other hand, some of us may aspire to recycle but don’t do as much as we could since we don’t know the secret handshake or all the intimidating rules and regulations. I hope what I learned on my field trip will inspire the community and business owners to do more to recycle.There is a viable secondary market for most of your trash. The Recycle Center sells two-ton bales of like-kind materials including newspapers, paper, corrugated cardboard, metal cans, aluminum cans, and number 1 and 2 grade plastic.I found it useful to see the entire process to better understand recycling. Since Eagle County collects its recyclables in co-mingled containers, it takes a lot of work to sort it all out. Step one is a dirty job for two people to sort through mounds of recyclables and pull out the non-recyclable materials. If you delivered your materials in plastic garbage or grocery bags, they have to be ripped open and dumped out at this point. YUCK! Plastic bags are the bane of existence for staff because they are not recyclable and are time-consuming to deal with. In step two a front-end loader dumps the co-mingled materials into a bin, then sent down a conveyer belt where three more workers pull out even more non-recyclable materials. Watching this process reminded me of the “I Love Lucy” episode at the chocolate factory – faster, faster, faster, more, more, and more. The next step on the journey is a crusher, which breaks all the glass bottles and flattens all the other materials. Glass particles fall through a grate for separate collection. Since there is not currently a cost-effective way to recycle glass, it is being stored at the landfill. Your trash continues along its merry way past a huge magnet that pulls out the metal. Aluminum is separated from the plastic, and an electronic eye helps sort the plastic into the three categories. A labyrinth of conveyor belts delivers all this sorted trash into individual bins that are then sent into a compactor and baler where, viola!, it comes out in tidy two-ton bales which are trucked away to the highest bidder. Profits from the re-sale of your trash pay the operational costs of this high-tech facility, so it is a win-win for all.You don’t have to take your recycling materials to this new facility. There is a convenient recycle drop-off at Vail town hall and other locations around Eagle County, or you can get recycle containers from Honey Wagon or Waste Management for pickup. At the Vail site there are three separate containers – one for corrugated cardboard (break the boxes down first), one for newspaper/paper (shred personal documents before recycling) and one for co-mingled recyclables (no plastic bags please!) There are few points that deserve additional emphasis. Eighty percent of the trash sent to the dump contains materials that could be recycled. Each of us can help improve this statistic by not putting recyclable materials in our trash. At home, set aside a separate container for newspapers, papers, bottle, cans, and plastics. If you want to recycle your plastic grocery bags you can drop them off at the store, but it is better not to bring them home in the first place and use your reusable bags instead. Another recycling tip is that cereal and six-pack boxes are paper, not cardboard. And remember, since there is not a cost-effective secondary market for glass bottle recycling, when given a choice, use plastic or aluminum.Each of us has the ability to make a difference at both work and at home. Do your part to reduce the volume being buried at the Eagle County Landfill. Your trash deserves to have a second life!Susie Tjossem is a member of the Vail Chamber & Business Association Board of Directors, a Vail Town Council member, and Director of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum located in Vail Village. You can purchase reusable grocery bags at the museum. The Vail Chamber & Business Association is the leading business advocacy group in Vail; all Vail merchants are encouraged to become members of this hard-working organization. For more information call 970-477-0075.