After exploring options, Basalt determines it cannot subsidize recycling center

Cardboard recycling bins are lined up at a drop-in site at Willits earlier this winter. The site is popular for midvalley residents who don't pay for curbsite recycling service.
Aspen Times file

Basalt officials followed Pitkin County’s lead and officially stuck a fork in the midvalley recycling center Tuesday night.

The fate of the drop-in, public recycling center in Willits looked grim for months because of soaring costs and shrinking contributions.

“At first blush, it’s like, ‘Why don’t we just step up to the plate?’” Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said. But a deeper dive provided by Town Manager Ryan Mahoney shows why that isn’t possible, she said.

Basalt and Pitkin County paid $30,000 apiece in 2019 to subsidize the recycling center operated by Waste Management. This year, Waste Management says it would need $120,000 to make the operation economically feasible.

The rising expense of handling recyclables and the loss of Pitkin County as a funding partner sealed the center’s fate.

Further complicating matters, Pitkin County decided months ago to bail.

“Pitkin County’s gone a different direction on how they’re going with recycling,” Mahoney said. The county stopped funding drop-in sites in favor of curbside recycling.

Even if Basalt could cover the $120,000 subsidy alone, it appears the expense will keep rising. Mahoney said a source for him in the waste business said the expense to collect, sort and transport recyclable materials is currently about $400 per ton. Recyclable material is hauled to Denver. Trash costs the companies about $93 per ton to handle, he said.

Tightening markets could force recycling costs even higher.

“We’d find ourselves back in the same conundrum,” Mahoney said.

He said he checked with three waste haulers and learned that curbside recycling is available throughout the midvalley for an additional fee for homeowners.

Eagle County has been exploring options to help the middle Roaring Fork Valley with recycling, but it also faces challenges, Mahoney said. The county transports recyclable materials from towns in the Eagle Valley to its landfill and sorting facility in Wolcott. The transportation costs are limited because all the towns are relatively close to Wolcott. Hauling materials from Basalt would be much more expensive, to the tune of about $200,000 per year, according to Mahoney. He indicated the county wouldn’t go that route. County Manager Jeff Shroll couldn’t be reached for confirmation Wednesday afternoon.

In lieu of spending funds on standard recycling, Basalt wants to plow the $30,000 into special programs. Mahoney said ideas being kicked around by the Green Team, citizen advisers on environmental issues, include electronics recycling days, yard waste recycling days and collections of items such as tires and vehicle batteries.

Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer suggested the town should encourage midvalley residents to compost eligible materials.

“It massively reduces trash,” she said.

One local business picks up household compost once per week for an $18 per month fee. Composting prolongs the life of landfills, produces a useful byproduct in soil and helps reduce carbon emissions because it can be handled locally, Schwoerer said.

Other council members endorsed the idea of promoting composting. Councilman Ryan Slack asked if it could be undertaken town-wide. Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said the town should explore providing incentives to reduce waste.

“The reduction of waste should be our big, big goal,” he said.

The recycling center along Willits Lane will remain open through January.