Aspen recycling center becoming a dump
ASPEN ” The Aspen Rio Grande Recycling Center is not the city dump, but apparently some commercial landscapers and property managers think it is.
Officials with Aspen’s Environmental Health Department are growing increasingly frustrated with the continuous dumping of yard waste at the drop-off site, which is meant for residential use only. And those officials also say commercial companies that are supposed to be hauling leaves and grass to the Pitkin County landfill are showing a total lack of disregard for the city’s rules.
Consequently, the bin fills up within a few days, and has to be emptied and hauled to the landfill at taxpayer expense.
“We had to take 2 1/2 truckloads to the landfill that taxpayers had to pay for,” said Jannette Whitcomb, the city’s environmental health program coordinator, regarding a haul she coordinated late last month.
“There is time and money involved to move that product,” she added. Two weeks ago, trash like Styrofoam, planting pots and weeds were dumped in the bin, which city workers had to pick out by hand before bringing it to the landfill.
“They felt sorry for us at the landfill and didn’t charge us,” Whitcomb said, adding all that did was shift the monetary burden onto Pitkin County taxpayers.
The residential drop-off in the spring and fall was established in 2006 when the city’s recycling ordinance was passed. The Rio Grande Recycling Center yard waste bin is meant for individual homeowners, not landscapers and property managers hired to clean up properties.
Illegal dumping has been a problem since the recycling ordinance went into effect, but this fall has been particularly bad in terms of violations. It’s forced city officials to spend more time at the recycling center in an attempt to enforce the law, and to inform and educate commercial companies that they need to take their waste to the landfill.
“Most of them are pleading ignorant,” Whitcomb said, adding commercial operators dump the waste at the city’s facility because it saves them time and money.
But as Ashley Cantrell, the city’s environmental health specialist, points out, those companies should be passing that cost onto their customers. Some clients might not even know their landscapers and property managers are violating city law, she added.
“If you are getting paid for your services, this bin is not for you,” Cantrell said. “The costs get really high [for the city] when people are illegally dumping.”
Whitcomb and Cantrell have been spending up to five hours a day at the recycling center in an attempt to educate commercial companies and catch them in the act of dumping yard waste.
Signs in English and Spanish have been placed all over the area targeting landscapers and property managers, with warnings like “Don’t even think of leaving your bags here,” or “For residential use only.”
But those signs have done little to deter violators. Last week, the signs were found buried underneath lawn bags dumped next to the bin because it was full.
“It’s a little out of control at this point,” Cantrell said.
City officials don’t want to have to resort fining people but they won’t hesitate if it doesn’t get better. Tickets can be issued for littering, which carries a fine up to $1,000, or the violation can be a theft of services because essentially they are stealing a service offered by the city.
“But we don’t want it to get to that,” Cantrell said.
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