Aspen’s recycling change-up forces people to the curb
In less than two weeks, your plastic will no longer be welcome at the Rio Grande Recycling Center.
The city of Aspen is the middle of transitioning from accepting single-stream recycling to targeted collections.
That means only glass, cardboard, metals, yard waste and scrap metals will be accepted at the recycling center beginning Aug. 31.
Aspen and Pitkin County residents can recycle their plastic and cartons with the curbside service that they already pay for through their trash hauler.
“Just about every piece of information we put out will include that curbside is available,” Liz Chapman, the city’s environmental health specialist, said of an upcoming education campaign. “It really is something we are overdue on emphasizing to our community.”
The reason for the change is because the county’s $250,000 annual subsidy to have a waste hauler pick up recyclables at the center ends this month.
The county removed funding of all public recycle centers outside of its own solid waste center when it required all haulers to provide curbside recycling at the beginning of the year.
The city has required curbside recycling since 2005 but only 20% to 30% of residents use the service.
Chapman hopes that the changes at the recycling center will motivate people to start using the curbside service.
Single-stream recycling, which is a system that allows all kinds of recyables to go in the same bin and then sorted at a material recovery facility, will still be available at residences and businesses, Chapman said.
Facing what could’ve been over $1 million a year to continue single-stream recycling at the Rio Grande, Aspen City Council earlier this month chose to go to targeted collection, which is estimated to cost between $225,000 and $450,000 a year.
Roughly $150,000 of that will be spent on a public education campaign and staffing people at the recycling center to explain the changes.
At council’s Aug. 5 meeting, Chapman told elected officials that a possible consequence of more people using curbside recycling is haulers may increase their rates.
“We may be driving up the price,” she told council.
In an interview last week, Chapman explained that with the current recycling market the way that it is, it’s an expensive proposition to do the right thing.
The national average two years ago showed that it cost a hauler $200 a month to provide recycling pickup and about $100 gets recouped at market, leaving the other half to be passed on to the consumer or absorbed by the business.
Cathy Hall, the manager of the county’s solid waste center, said she’ll get a report from haulers after a full year of curbside recycling to see how many people are using the service and at what rates.
Haulers have said in the past that rates will go up as a result of the added service.
Even though the county pulled its funding for the Rio Grande center, it is partnering with the city by paying for the year-round yard waste collection.
Chapman and her team are working now on next week’s transition from single stream to targeted collection.
“We need to switch everything out on Friday so the center will be closed Aug. 30 and then we will set up for targeted collection,” she said.
The city is looking for three part-time staffers to man the recycling center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to direct people on how to use the new system.
Chapman said she is hopeful that people go the extra mile to recycle, both at the Rio Grande center and at the curb.
“My personal expectation is that people who are using the recycling center are compassionate about caring for the planet,” she said.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.