What’s in Aspen’s trash? | VailDaily.com

What’s in Aspen’s trash?

Joel Stonington
Joel Stonington/Aspen TimesVolunteers sort through a large pile of trash at the Pitkin County Landfill to figure out what people are recycling and how trash garbage can be reduced.

ASPEN ” Chuck something in the trash, take it to the curb, and it magically disappears. Or so it seems.

On a recent morning, a half-dozen volunteers aired the county’s dirty laundry when they sorted through a single truck of trash.

It wasn’t hard to figure out where it came from. There were notebooks, videos and old posters from Aspen Middle School, oil filters and car parts from an auto repair store, and more than one person noticed names they knew.

The mission was to figure out how Pitkin County is doing on solid waste. Are bottles and cans being recycled? Is there anything toxic in the trash, such as paint or electronics? How much of the trash could be composted?

The volunteers pawed through the better part of the 16,000-pound pile of rotting vegetables and meat, sawdust, cardboard, tin cans, plastic bags, broom handles, boards and so much more.

It was the contents of just one compactor truck ” one of about 10 that arrive at the landfill every day. Those trucks dump only a fraction of the waste that makes it to the landfill. Construction trucks, businesses and others also drop off trash there.

“All this would normally get buried,” said Dylan Hoffman, outreach and compliance coordinator at the landfill. “Much of this is recoverable trash. If there’s a lot of recyclables maybe we need to beef up outreach. It allows us to see what’s there.”

During sorting, a few gems appeared ” an nice snow shovel, an unopened beer, playing cards, a tent ” that went in the reusable pile. There were also piles for cardboard, loose paper, wood, metal, recyclables, clothes, compostable stuff and true trash such as plastic bags.

By noon, most of the volunteers were loosing spirit. Sawdust was swarming around the pile. Flies were making kamikaze dives. The stench was increasing. It was no longer easy to pull off a bale or two of cardboard. So they called it quits and eyeballed percentages.

The final breakdown: 35 percent trash, 25 percent cardboard, 12.5 percent recycling, 7.5 percent paper, 5 percent each of metal and yard waste, 4.5 percent wood, 2.5 percent clothes, 2 percent reusable, and a very small amount of toxic waste such as aerosol cans (around 1 percent).

“The biggest surprise was seeing the load of cardboard on top,” said Brian Flynn, a city parks and recreation employee. “Everything else seemed fairly common.”

Hoffman said the cardboard was likely not recycled because it costs more for businesses to have a cardboard program. He was unhappy about the number of bottles and cans, he said.

“I was surprised about the conventional recycling,” Hoffman said. “There were a lot of bottles and cans I didn’t want to see in there.”

He said that nothing major jumped out at him as something to change immediately. There was no significant electronics waste, and most of the other percentages were what he expected.

“I’m a trash dork,” Hoffman said. “I look in trash cans when I’m walking down the street.

“People would learn a lot by participating in events like this. Most people throw trash away and forget about it,” he said. “They don’t think about where ‘away’ is ” when people see it, it’s usually a powerful moment.”

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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