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County landfill is filling up

Allyn Harvey

The best way out of a big mess is a good plan. That even holds true at one of the trashiest joints in the valley – the Pitkin County Landfill.

County solid waste manager Miles Stotts has started work on a master plan that will manage the county dump from now until it is closed in 15 or 20 years.

“You can only pile the trash up so high,” Stotts said. “How high you allow it to go is one thing that determines the life of a landfill, the other is the amount of trash that comes through the gate.”

With a plan in hand, Stotts reckons, local residents and their trash haulers will be able to make decisions that can extend the life of the dump, or hasten its closure.

Should the size of the landfill be expanded to extend its life? Is it best to spend more money on recycling and composting? Are Aspenites ready to pay to have their garbage hauled on trucks to landfills elsewhere in the state? Could loading our refuse onto trains that take it out of state be the solution?

Once the planning process formally begins, Stotts said, the answers may become clear.

A lot is already being done to extend the life of Pitkin County’s landfill, which is probably impossible to replace in the valley’s high real estate market.

Each week, Stotts said, two semi-trailers full of recycled cardboard, newspaper, cans, plastic and glass leave the landfill, bound for recycling mills and brokers. That equates to about 1 million pounds of cardboard, 2.5 million pounds of cans and bottles, and more than 3 million pounds of newsprint every year.

“Overall, the county’s recycling and diversion rate is very good,” Stotts said.

The county’s diversion program also reduces the waste stream by separating out rocks and dirt from other waste, and putting wood into a compost pile. Most participants in the program are in the building industry, which presents the biggest challenge to waste management right now, Stotts said.

Last year, about 15,000 pounds of dirt and between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds of compost top soil were sold instead of buried because of the diversion program. “That represents an enormous amount of material that is not taking up space in the landfill,” Stotts said.

The recycling program comes at an annual cost of about $500,000, and the household hazardous waste disposal program costs another $30,000 to $40,000. Both are paid for with money earned from tipping fees charged to everyone who drops off garbage. The diversion program is a cash generator.

Stotts, who became “The Dump Guy” just three years ago, said he expects to complete a preliminary draft of the master plan later this summer. Then, the county’s citizens task force on solid waste will be reconvened to further develop the county’s strategy and shepherd it through the process.


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