If it was cheap, we’d all do it
At first, we weren’t sure what to think about last week’s news that Aspen and Pitkin County plan to impose a fee on construction waste. We’re all for cutting down on waste and extending the life of the Pitkin County Landfill, but the proposed fee sounded like one more way to raise the cost of owning a home in this already overpriced valley, making it even harder for working people to live here.
The fee would help cover the landfill’s costs to sort and grind construction waste. And, by lowering the fee for those who take buildings apart and somehow recycle certain pieces, the proposed system also would encourage the “deconstruction,” as opposed to mere demolition, of local buildings. This will make all kinds of construction projects more pricey, from a kitchen remodel to a Red Mountain
If it were cheap and easy to deconstruct a building, then everyone would already do it.
But if you take the long view, this proposed fee system begins to make more sense. In the end, as a society, we should encourage systems that reward people for conserving resources and penalize people for wasting them. And if a fee for construction waste encourages builders and developers to recycle materials, then all the better for the valley.
This is not unlike what we’re seeing with gas prices. Any honest American knows that it’s wasteful to drive huge, gas-guzzling cars, but it took $4 per gallon to actually spur broad changes in consumer habits. Now car makers are closing SUV factories and consumers are jumping on bicycles and mass transit in order to save money.
Nobody likes to pay these prices at the pump, but in the long run we’ll remember these years as the turning point when America began to change its habits and wean itself off of foreign oil. Take note, because this nationwide discussion about energy didn’t begin in earnest until gas prices hit consumers in the pocketbook.
And it’s similar with building in Pitkin County. As long as it’s cheap to simply scrape and replace everything in sight, that’s what homeowners and builders will do when they want to make a change. The more it costs to empty trash bins full of construction waste into the county landfill, the more builders and homeowners will hesitate before doing it, and consider other options. There’s an opportunity here to create less waste and build new markets for second-hand building materials.
Ever spent a morning at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, or Construction Junction? We hardly need to announce that the second-hand shopping in the Roaring Fork Valley is, well, second to none.
It does seem that the cost of living in this valley seems to spiral ever upward, and this proposed fee on construction waste won’t make it any cheaper. But if it reduces waste and thus lengthens the life of our landfill, that’s good. (Can you imagine what it will cost the taxpayers to find, buy and then permit a new landfill around here?)
Furthermore, if the fee system jump-starts a bigger market for recycled building materials, from plumbing fixtures to cabinets to flooring, then maybe there’s another long-term upside.
Pitkin County Solid Waste Manager Chris Hoofnagle is now shopping this fee idea around the valley. We urge other valley governments to lend their support.
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