City, county ponder new recycling plan |

City, county ponder new recycling plan

One popular program briefly jeopardized by this year’s fiscal crisis in Pitkin County was consumer recycling of cans, newspaper, bottles and cardboard.

The overall cost of the program is about $700,000 a year, according to figures released during last summer’s budget deliberations.

That’s about three-fifths of a $1.1 million shortfall that resulted from a sharp drop in sales taxes. It’s also most of the new property taxes voters authorized in the November general election to alleviate the crisis.

“Had that tax request failed, I don’t know what would have happened,” said County Commissioner Dorothea Farris. “We had a number of jobs and programs on the line, so we would have had to look at everything.”

The $800,000 property tax increase is dedicated to funding health and human services and community nonprofits, and will remain in effect for five years. But county officials like Farris say it’s allowed them to keep other programs, including consumer recycling and restaurant inspections, in place.

The focus with consumer recycling is now over how to do it.

The county has long collected most recycling at the public recycling center next to Rio Grande Park in Aspen. The giant bins there allow residents to separate cans and bottles from plastics and paper.

But the city of Aspen and representatives from the Obermeyer family, which hopes to develop much of its property along Rio Grande Place, have been pressuring the county to relocate the recycling center. The city has argued that Rio Grande Park is less attractive because of the recycling center.

The Obermeyers at one point offered to build an enclosed recycling center on their property.

According to a memo prepared earlier this month by Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet, the Obermeyer offer is still on the table. But two other options are also being considered.

One is to create a yet to be specified number of decentralized drop-off points. Pettet said the city has identified a number of spots around town that could, with proper landscaping and screening, handle a single bin. Cardboard compactors would be located in alleys next to businesses that need them.

Under this scenario, the Rio Grande site would still be used for a single bin, according to Pettet’s memo.

The second alternative under consideration is curbside recycling. The program would be similar to the one used in Carbondale and other nearby communities.

Typically, the waste hauler charges a small monthly fee to pick up recyclables directly from the customer. In Carbondale, participation in recycling programs costs about $3 per month.

City and county planners are looking into whether private garbage haulers like Waste Management Inc. are willing to pick up recyclables in less urban areas around Aspen.

They are also studying the participation rates of curbside programs in an effort to understand which type of recycling ? drop-off or curbside ? is more widely accepted by consumers.

Officials additionally are looking into whether a subsidy should be offered to jump start curbside pickup.

“Obermeyer has an interest in getting rid of the recycling center away from the high-end units it plans to build,” said County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “If they are willing to help cover the costs on an ongoing basis, maybe something can be worked out.”

A meeting of waste haulers and government officials is scheduled for early January to discuss the situation.

“If the city does in fact kick the county out of Rio Grande, we’re going to have to figure things out,” said Miles Stotts, the county public works manager who oversees operations at the landfill.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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