Big subsidy required to keep recycling drop-off site operating in Basalt

Plastic is piled in recycling dumpsters at the Waste Management Recycling Center in Basalt. The facility is in danger of closing in 2020 but was given a reprieve for January.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The prospects for salvaging a drop-off recycling facility in Willits dimmed Tuesday night when Basalt Town Council members learned a subsidy would have to double next year.

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said town staff approached the private firm Waste Management over the last week to find out what it would take to continue operating the center at Willits.

“We did want to get that cost because Eagle County had expressed some interest in possibly helping to fund this, but we then found out in the last day that the new cost would be doubled,” Mahoney told the council.

Instead of a $60,000 annual subsidy, Waste Management said it would require $120,000 to keep the site operating.

“The whole face of recycling seems to be changing and we’re kind of caught in the middle of it,” Mahoney said.

Waste Management sorts recycled cardboard, glass, aluminum, plastic and paper at its facility in Willits and ships materials to a larger facility in Denver. Basalt planning director Susan Philp said a source in the trash and recycling industry told her companies such as Waste Management paid $11 per ton to drop off materials at the Denver facility last year. Now the fee is $86 per ton, she said. That’s fueled the larger subsidy requirement.

The recycling center saga has taken more turns than Mikaela Shiffrin on a slalom course. First, Pitkin County informed Basalt it would no longer split the $60,000 subsidy starting in 2020. Basalt reacted by budgeting its $30,000 share to other green initiatives for next year.

Basalt reconsidered recently when Eagle County officials said they would investigate the matter and consider contributing to the subsidy. County officials said they are getting heavily lobbied on the issue by their constituents in the middle Roaring Fork Valley.

Then the $120,000 bombshell fell. Mahoney told the council the Basalt staff continues to explore options with Waste Management.

“It might be that a facility at Willits is either pared down or no longer exists and it would be up to individual homeowners to seek curbside,” Mahoney said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she favors seeking a solution with Eagle County government. She noted the county helps transport recyclable materials from towns in the Eagle Valley to the county-owned landfill in Wolcott. Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said perhaps the county could help transport materials from the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County to the landfill.

Whitsitt said the potential closure has captured attention.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of probably more communications from citizens about this particular issue than anything I’ve heard about for a really long time,” she said. “It’s clearly something that is of great importance to people in the midvalley. I think we’re not done with this conversation. I hope not.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle said she hopes people continue to recycle, despite what happens with the drop-off facility at Willits. She noted trash haulers offer curbside recycling for a fee.

“Maybe it’s time to buck up and pay that extra $4 a quarter to have recycling,” she said.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer said a grander solution is reducing the need for recycling and focus on reducing and reusing.

“We need to address consumption, excessive consumption in our culture,” Schwoerer said. “Until that is dealt with, we’ll continue to have these problems. So stop buying stuff.”