Does Aspen really need a recycling center? |

Does Aspen really need a recycling center?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Should Pitkin County pay to operate a recycling drop-off center in Aspen when residents of the city and county already have access to curbside pickup of their cans, bottles, newspapers and such?

That’s the question Chris Hoofnagle, the county’s solid waste manager, intends to pose to county commissioners on Tuesday.

In January, Hoofnagle told commissioners the recycling operations at the county landfill will run at a projected deficit of close to $600,000 this year. Part of that cost is roughly $150,000 the county expects to pay, through its landfill budget, to provide a free recycling center on the edge of the city’s Rio Grande Park.

Roughly 80 percent of the material that is dropped off there comes from residential users; the rest comes from area businesses, Hoofnagle said. Those estimates come from a highly informal survey of some people who stopped by the recycling center during a week in April.

Of the residential users, Hoofnagle estimated roughly three-quarters of them live within the city of Aspen, where they already pay a garbage hauler to provide recycling pickup at their homes.

A city ordinance requires haulers to build recycling into their base rate; whether customers take advantage of it or not is optional.

In unincorporated parts of the county, recycling pickup may not be included in the base rate, but haulers are required to provide recycling pickup to anyone who wants it, Hoofnagle said.

“We’ve made it a law that [haulers] have to do it,” he said. “Why are we providing the same service for free?”

Hoofnagle said he’s not recommending any changes regarding operation of the recycling center, but wants commissioners to consider whether paying to operate the center makes sense. Landfill fees can no longer support the current level of recycling service, in addition to other budget priorities, he said in a memo to commissioners.

Commissioners and the City Council will meet jointly on June 1 and are scheduled to discuss possible changes to the recycling program.

Options include asking the city to share the cost of running the center, reducing the types of materials that may be dropped off there, considering a county sales tax to support recycling or letting everyone in the county rely on their trash hauler to handle recyclable materials. In any scenario, Hoofnagle noted, the materials would continue to be recycled.

Individuals who use the recycling center say they find it convenient, or that they don’t want to store bulky materials and containers, even though they’re already paying for curbside service, Hoofnagle said. Some have curbside service that doesn’t handle every material.

“Many, many of them were well aware that they are already paying for the service from their hauler,” he said.

Much the same situation exists in Basalt, where the county landfill absorbs nearly the same cost to run a recycling drop-off center on the edge of the downtown. But informal surveys at that facility indicate it is more broadly used.

“The customers at that site come from many different jurisdictions,” Hoofnagle said. People using the site reside in various areas of the midvalley, including Basalt, Carbondale, El Jebel, Missouri Heights, Old Snowmass and the Fryingpan River Valley. Many of those users reside in either Eagle or Garfield counties.

The provision of curbside recycling by haulers isn’t necessarily required in those communities, and where haulers do pick up recyclables, they may not pick up all of them – newspapers, magazines and cardboard, for example.

“The Aspen center is redundant. In Basalt, it’s not so clear,” Hoofnagle said. “The Basalt drop-off center may be one of the only ways people can recycle.”

Aspen, meanwhile, is planning a $175,000 upgrade to the Rio Grande recycling center, which sits on city property. The county has committed $20,000 to the project, aimed at cleaning the area up. Park-like landscaping around the site is proposed, along with paving the area and installing a surveillance camera so that individuals who illegally dump trash there can be identified and ticketed.

The improvements are slated to be made in the fall.


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