Where does the recycling go?
AVON – “Please no trash” the sign proclaimed in English and Spanish. But despite the plea, the recycling drop-off sight in Avon was in dismal condition. Plastic bags and polystyrene peanuts littered the ground. Behind one receptacle, tires were haphazardly strewn with couch cushions piled over them. Although there were designated containers for cardboard, they had long since overflowed and cardboard was stacked on the ground. Beer bottles and soda cans completed the miserable scene. In Edwards, a car battery and a bucket of toxic wall coating waited near a sign that declared “No motor oil, paint/solvents, tires or batteries.”With so much trash mixed in with the recyclables, Waste Management, which picks up the material about four times a week from seven locations around the valley, has the right to haul the mess to the dump. Taking it to the local landfill would save workers the hassle of separating recyclable goods from the junk. It would also save the cost of bringing the materials to a processing plant in Grand Junction as opposed to the landfill in Wolcott. So what’s there to keep recyclables from ending up at the dump? When you make the effort to recycle, where is the stuff going?
Making moneyEllen McKibben laboriously pulled loads of phone books out of her car, lugging them to the recycling receptacles in Vail. She routinely drops off recyclable materials – such as cardboard, magazines and phonebooks – the garbage truck won’t pick up from her home. “I do it because it’s good for the environment,” she said. “If we can reuse the stuff, we should – not just throw it away.”McKibben has been recycling for years, but said she’s not exactly sure what happens to the paper, glass and plastic after she drops them off. “Hopefully it’s not going to the dump,” she said. “I just don’t want to see the dump filled up.”McKibben thought for a moment finally concluding, “I don’t think they’re doing that.” And according to all the organizations involved in the Eagle County recycling process, she’s right. “All the bins, everything comes to Grand Junction,” said Scott Martinez, senior district manager of Waste Management. “If there’s garbage in the bins, it’s separated later.”Matt Scherr, an environmental activist who says saving the earth can save money, said recycling, instead of dumping, makes financial sense.
“(Waste Management) makes money on recyclables, so as much as possible, they want to recycle it,” said Scherr, executive director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. Next year, the alliance will take over management of recycling facilities currently run by Eagle County. Although Waste Management is required to cleanup sites when they visit or notice their condition is in decline, the system is tedious. Truck drivers must get permission from their managers and county officials before they can pick up a thing. “There is always a certain amount of trash in it, which you’re going to see with unmanned drop-offs,” said Ron Rasnic, solid waste manager for Eagle County. But, he added, he doesn’t see recyclable material at the landfill.’Tremendously inefficient’Even though Waste Management is contracted to deal with the trash, it’s still a hassle that shouldn’t exist, Scherr said. He added about 10 percent of items found at a recycling site are meant for the trash can. By taking over the management, Scherr hopes to take steps to cleanup and eventually streamline the system. He’ll be helped by about $200,000 taxpayer dollars, Rasnic said.
“It’s a tremendously inefficient system,” Scherr said of recycling efforts in the county. His plans include consolidating recycling sites that will be easier to operate and increasing curbside service, especially to apartments and townhouse complexes. Further in the future, Scherr said he hopes to set up a processing facility in the county to reduce transportation costs and wear on vehicles.Ray Merry, head of the county’s environmental health department, said the alliance will be able to give recycling a much needed “extra push” the county was not able to offer.”It’s exciting to have a crack at a better focus,” Merry said. “The sites are not as prolific as they should be. They tend to get trashed out. There’s not daily supervision. We need Matt Scherr.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado