Pitkin County will farm out recycling operations at Aspen’s Rio Grande site, the landfill and Redstone next week to Waste Management, which has drawn mixed reviews for its handling of materials in Basalt.
Pitkin County decided earlier this year to stop collecting and transporting the recycled materials itself because it was subsidizing the program by roughly $350,000 per year. Waste Management placed the winning bid to take over the service and a contract was recently signed, according to Cathy Hall, Pitkin County’s solid waste manager. The county’s recycling bins will be removed from the three drop-off locations and replaced by Waste Management’s bins by Monday, she said. County officials will be at the heavily used Rio Grande site next week to explain the changes, she said.
The same transition from Pitkin County to Waste Management would have taken place at the recycling center near downtown Basalt, but town government officials decided to stop collecting recyclable materials there starting March 1, Hall said. The public has been urged to drop off their materials at Waste Management’s transfer station in the Willits Design and Industrial Center. However, that service has been persistently criticized because it is only open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Basalt resident Dean Wagner penned the latest of a handful of letters to the editor Monday complaining of the limited hours at Waste Management’s Willits station. He said that it doesn’t work for working folks.
“Not only does it require more driving to use the recycling center, you created hours that make it virtually impossible for those of us who do work to use the facility,” Wagner wrote.
Every major trash hauler in the Roaring Fork Valley provides curbside recycling service, but that requires homeowners and business owners to pay a fee. The recycling centers are free.
Basalt town government also faced pressure from residents living in the hillside above the recycling center to relocate the facility because of the noise generated by people using it at all hours. The Town Council has grappled for years to find an alternative site. Waste Management provided a private sector alternative.
The old Basalt recycle center was unsupervised. It was common to see garbage — from mattresses and televisions in the most extreme cases to trash bags on a regular basis — strewn there.
“The contamination was out of control,” Hall said.
There was no camera monitoring dumping at the Basalt site as there is at the Rio Grande site in Aspen, Hall said. The Aspen-Pitkin County Environmental Health Department monitored the video each day for illegal dumping in Aspen, she said.
Waste Management’s transfer center at Willits is staffed during the limited hours that it’s open, so it’s a deterrent to leaving trash. A representative of Waste Management said in an email to The Aspen Times that the hours of the facility in Basalt coincide with the times that drivers are bringing recyclable materials to the transfer station for bailing and transport to Denver. “At this time, we will not be able to staff the facility outside of the established business hours,” the company said in an email.
Hall said residents who use Waste Management’s recycling facilities at Rio Grande, the landfill and Redstone would benefit from better service than the county could offer. Waste Management will offer single-stream recycling, meaning that all materials can be mixed in one bin. Glass, plastic, aluminum, cardboard, newspapers, office paper and other acceptable materials can be mixed, she said. In addition, Waste Management will accept fiberboard used in cereal boxes and 12-packs, according to Hall.
Waste Management hadn’t delivered on the single-stream pledge at Basalt as of last month. Users there still were being asked to place most recycled materials into separate containers.
Pitkin County and Waste Management signed a three-year contract for the recycling operation. Although the price for recycled materials is low, the private waste hauler might be able to operate the system more efficiently since it handles so much recycled material curbside, according to Hall.
Waste Management confirmed that in an email. The company said it was “able to offer the recycling solution to Pitkin County because we were able to find several alternate methods to service the Rio Grande location that were both financially acceptable to WM and less expensive for the County. WM has trucks in operation on the corridor all day. These drop-sites tuck in nicely to our current operations as well as our transporting of materials for processing to the Front Range.”
Pitkin County requires trash haulers to offer a curbside recycling service. Hall said she believes recycling is here to stay because county residents support the service.
“It’s keeping material out of the landfill,” she said.
Gerry Terwilliger, a volunteer on Basalt’s environmental committee called The Green Team, said he understands the town government’s decision to eliminate the downtown recycling center in favor of Waste Management’s facility. Curbside recycling is available for a modest fee, he said, and polluters abused the old recycling center.
“The issue always kept coming up — all this trash that gets dumped,” Terwilliger said. “I think this was about the only solution.”
“It’s keeping material out of the landfill.”
Cathy Hall, Pitkin County solid waste manager