The governments of Eagle and Pitkin counties have taken different paths in search of a shared goal to encourage recycling.
Pitkin County will contract out recycling service to the private sector starting Monday. The decision was made, in large part, because of the ongoing subsidy that the recycling effort required by the county government.
In contrast, Eagle County decided in 2010 that recycling was worth a subsidy ,and it invested heavily in a material recovery facility that makes sorting recyclable materials and preparing them for shipment to buyers more efficient.
Eagle County’s recycling program, including the material recovery center, required a $200,000 subsidy in 2013, according to Jess Masten, operations manager for the Solid Waste and Recycling department. However, the subsidy came from the solid waste enterprise fund — profits from the landfill — rather than the general fund.
The Eagle County Commissioners determined years ago that the investment in recycling was worthwhile.
“We want to offer recycling to our citizens,” Masten said.
Pitkin County also wants to make recycling available, but it no longer wants to be involved directly. In meetings with the county commissioners in 2013 to discuss the direction of the recycling program, landfill officials said the annual subsidy for the recycling effort has ranged from $180,000 to $350,000 in recent years.
Pitkin County put the recycling service out for bid. Waste Management earned the contract. It will replace the containers near Rio Grande Park in Aspen with one container where all recyclable materials can go. Waste Management also will collect the recycled materials dropped off at the landfill and at Redstone. A drop-off site at Basalt was eliminated in March because the public can take recyclables to Waste Management’s loading facility.
Eagle County maintains six drop-off sites in the Eagle Valley: at Gypsum, Eagle, Edwards, Avon, Vail and Red Cliff. A county worker patrols four of the sites once per day to deter dumping garbage, Masten said. Vail polices the drop-off facility in that town.
There are no current plans by Eagle County to provide a recycling drop-off facility in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of the county, Masten said. “Pitkin County has always taken care of that part of the county because it’s the closest.”
He was uncertain if Eagle County officials would revisit that decision because of the transition from Pitkin County to a private hauler.
Eagle County requires users to separate paper and cardboard from co-mingled plastics, glass, aluminum, and tin and steels cans. That helps guard against contamination and makes the materials more attractive to buyers.
“The cleaner we can keep our material, the easier we can sell it,” he said.
The Eagle County staff is supplemented by inmates at the county jail to run the recycling operations. Five inmates are used to sort materials and prepare them to be compacted in bales for shipment, Masten said. The inmates earn time off their jail sentences through the public service.
Eagle County transported 286 tons of number one plastic in 2013 and 133 tons of number two plastic. The market dried up for 3-7 plastics, so they were bailed and stored.
The county also bundled 1,374 tons of cardboard, 913 tons of paper, 139 tons of tin and steel cans, 67 tons of aluminum cans and 2,119 tons of glass, according to Masten.
The materials recovery facility generated revenues of about $6 million last year, according to Masten. The county uses a broker that helps it locate the best price for materials at any given time. The mills that buy the materials are constantly changing, he said.
Despite the hefty tonnage, overall recycling was down 3 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. Newspaper, junk mail and office paper was down 13 percent, according to Masten.
Through the first quarter of this year, recycling is down another 4 percent, Masten said. However, landfill operations are up 4 percent, he said.
The state government recognizes county governments’ efforts to maintain free public recycling drop-off sites. Eagle County recently received a $7,000 rebate for the sites from the Colorado Pollution Prevention Advisory Board. It has received $27,000 in rebates since 2010.
“It’s not a big chunk of change. It’s not going to subsidize our program by any stretch of the imagination,” Masten said. But any bit helps, he added.