Vail Valley Voices: Trashed, but not wasted |

Vail Valley Voices: Trashed, but not wasted

When Ron Rasnic started at Eagle County 17 years ago, it was a dump.

Today, the landfill is so much more, thanks to Ron, our solid waste and recycling manager who retired this October.

In applauding his work, I challenge our community to continue down the path he blazed. The job is more complex than you might think with regulatory challenges to air and water, beyond day-to-day operations.

More than those shoes, it will be Ron’s visionary work that will be missed.

Under Ron’s leadership, Eagle County became a regional leader in diverting from the waste-stream materials with other uses. Items now separated include tires, construction waste, paper, cardboard, glass, plastics and scrap metal. Soon, consumer electronics and compost will be separated, as well.

Under his tenure, diversion of hazardous

materials improved significantly. The household hazardous waste facility allows us to identify, sort and consolidate paints, pesticides and other hazardous waste. One of the most laudable efforts Ron led was creating a solidification basin to process de-icing fluid from our airport.

As far as volume, one shift in management philosophy stands out. Though construction is not booming today, from 1994 through 2007, gate tonnages at the landfill in Eagle County went from 52,000 tons to more than 115,000 tons per year. Construction and demolition waste comprised more than 50 percent of that stream. Ron led the effort to extend capacity of the landfill by getting as much of this sorted at the source so it could be diverted from the landfill.

The most visible success of Ron’s tenure is the $5.2 million materials recycling center, which brought the recycling effort in the valley from an ad-hoc effort to legitimate overnight. The facility can process as much as 2 tons of recyclables per hour, sorting and putting paper, cardboard and plastics into bales. The core of the center is a real whizbang machine that includes an optical scanner that identifies plastics and sorts them with bursts of air – all at high speed.

That positions us to be a regional magnet for recyclables and effectively replaces miles of inefficient hauling of loose packed containers off to distant markets.

As for passing the torch, Ron has been working with jurisdictions from Vail to Gypsum to seek permanent and better-managed recycling drop sites. This effort continues through a regional waste steering committee Ron assembled that is working with each community within the county to upgrade collection sites, relocate them as necessary, improve collection frequencies and educate the public as to what and how to recycle. These tasks are extremely difficult, if not impossible, without community involvement and cooperation.

There is a lot of enthusiasm in Vail for this effort which recently upgraded their drop site. They are so proud of their cardboard compactor and recycling station that they put it just outside the town offices. These sites are for those who don’t mind hauling to central locations. Eagle has just agreed to upgrade and move its site to the public works facility on Chambers Avenue.

Still, significant gaps between the capacity of our facilities and the amount of supply voluntarily diverted by consumers. The gap right now is two parts. First, our consumers don’t know much about these good works; and second, our haulers are not necessarily motivated or prepared to bring from every curbside and every business in the valley.

While curbside is available throughout the valley, a study conducted under a 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability found that we are still only diverting about 10 percent of what could be recycled. The town of Eagle, which outsourced trash hauling and instituted curbside recycling stopped short of what 40 percent of those surveyed had requested – mandatory recycling for all.

The alliance, under Jennifer Shenk’s direction, will be coming up with a 10-year plan to improve on those figures. The alliance received a federal grant this year for that purpose. More to come on that.

So thanks to Ron Rasnic’s leadership, we are in the position to make a quantum leap as a community. Obviously, his passion has legs, and others are running with it.

Jon Stavney, of Eagle, is an Eagle County commissioner.

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