Vail Daily column: Thank you, recyclers, for doing your part
Today is America Recycles Day, and we pay homage to all who sort and set out the bins, with the accompanying question: “Honey, is today our recycling day?” Every single can or bottle makes a difference — so thank you recyclers for doing your part!
That said, we have work to do. Every day about 200 tons of waste is delivered to the Eagle County Landfill. Over 60 percent of these materials can be recycled or composted, but less than 20 percent of our total waste is currently diverted or recycled. More than 80 percent of our total waste — 160 tons every day — is buried in the landfill.
Our statewide recycling rate of 11 percent is even worse. Throughout the West, abundant land and long distance to markets make landfilling trash the cheapest and easiest thing to do. Eagle County’s landfill has 50 years of life left but local surveys tell us that recycling and diverting waste, not landfilling, is what our community wants.
Landfilling adds to a growing environmental problem. Plastics made from petroleum do not biodegrade, but merely photodegrade into smaller and smaller pieces that last forever. Rotting garbage releases significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And finally, no landfill liners are 100 percent impenetrable. According to the EPA, even the best liner and leachate collection system will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration.
Keeping on the sunny side, recycling puts valuable resources back into productive use. It’s overall more efficient, and better for the climate, than making products from virgin stock. Recycling keeps waste from being buried in local lands, prevents pollution of water and air and keeps forest and mineral resources intact. At a basic level, recycling is better for our community than throwing it all away. Thankfully our communities are working together to keep waste and pollution out of the landfill.
In 2008, the county opened a Household Hazardous Waste Facility to help keep hazardous chemicals out of the landfill. The HHW facility accepts lawn and garden products, paint, cleaning supplies and automotive fluids. The facility, located in Wolcott at the Eagle County Landfill, also accepts electronic waste such as televisions, computers, printers, DVD players and stereo equipment. E-waste is prohibited from being disposed of in Colorado landfills.
In 2010, the county opened a Materials Recovery Facility, known as the MuRF, partly in response to requests from residents. Prior to the MuRF, loose recyclables were shipped to Denver or Grand Junction. The MuRF sifts, sorts and compacts recyclable materials, making the transport of materials five times more efficient. Thanks to a 2015 investment in solar panels, the MuRF is a “net zero” facility which means that solar panels produce all the clean electricity it uses.
The county partners with the towns to provide public recycling collection centers in Vail, Red Cliff, Avon, Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum. These centers accept glass bottles and jars, aluminum and tin cans, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, phone books, magazines, junk mail and mixed office paper — additional upgrades to these sites are planned for 2016. Local garbage haulers also offer curbside recycling as a community service.
Environmental stewardship is a high priority in the county’s strategic plan, and we’ve set a goal of 30 percent overall waste diversion by 2030. Food waste and landscaping materials are some of the largest contributors to solid waste and methane gas releases in landfills. Our next big endeavor is to develop composting services as a way to divert organic materials, about 40 percent of our waste.
With recycling, every can and bottle matters. This America Recycles Day, renew your personal pledge to reduce your waste and recycle more. If you’re in the area this week, then please stop by the Eagle County Building to see a new exhibit on recycling, and stop by town of Avon’s recycle center on Thursday to recycle your electronic waste and shred your sensitive paper documents. Keep recycling, Eagle County!
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners is Jeanne McQueeney, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jill Ryan.