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Pitkin County looks to share costs at Aspen recycling center

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

When Pitkin County began a contract earlier this year with Waste Management to privatize collection at the county’s three recycling centers, it cut nearly half the collection costs it previously had paid.

A study conducted in July showed that 57 percent of the recycling coming into the Rio Grande Recycling Center in Aspen was a combination of residential and commercial use generated within Aspen city limits.

Cathy Hall, the solid waste manager for Pitkin County, spoke to county commissioners Tuesday and brought up the idea of a cost-sharing agreement with the city of Aspen concerning the Rio Grande Recycling Center.

Saving money is part of running the landfill, said county engineer G.R. Fielding, who was filling in for Brian Pettit, the county public works director, at the meeting.

“The landfill operates as close to a business as the county has,” Fielding said. “The job of that business is anywhere they can pull in more revenue, provide that same service and cut down their costs; that’s what the taxpayers really look for us to do.”

Prior to privatization, the cost to service the recycling at Rio Grande, the solid-waste center and the bimonthly collections at Redstone was approximately $350,000 a year. The cost for Waste Management to manage collections at the three areas is approximately $180,000, providing significant savings to the county.

In April, the county went to a single-stream collection of recyclables, resulting in a 25 percent increase in recycling amounts at the Rio Grande Recycling Center. Single-stream recycling allows all recycling, including cardboard, comingled containers, cardboard and glass, into one bin.

Hall said if the city agrees to share as much as 50 percent of the annual budget to service the Rio Grande Recycling Center, the $50,000 to 60,000 in savings would go toward creating new recycling programs. Some program examples Hall listed included an e-waste diversion for recycled electrical equipment, an in-house paint-recycling program and a pilot program for food-waste recovery from local restaurants.

Commissioner Rachel Richards warned about creating new recycling programs using money that isn’t coming from the landfill enterprise budget.

“This looks like a $60,000 savings, should it come to pass, but how much would each of these new programs cost?” she asked. “Do we need more of those cost savings to actually help fulfill the (landfill) master plan? I like the idea of expanding our recycling program, but it’s also, to me, a harder sell to tell people, ‘We need you to contribute so we have cost savings so we can start new programs that don’t pay for themselves.’ This is a trick sequence. I think everyone would need to buy into the value of using their money, that we call cost savings, to now start paint or food recycling.

“I don’t want to promise programs we can’t afford to start.”

Hall said she’s been in discussions with the city about advancing the Rio Grande recycling program. Some ideas include conducting a joint recycling study and developing a zero-waste plan.

“A lot of communities are putting together zero-waste plans,” Hall said. “But nobody has accomplished it yet. It’s where you get to the point where you have zero trash, zero throwaway material. Everything is diverted and reused. The goal is to get to zero burial of trash.”

A zero-waste plan would consist of determining a baseline waste-diversion rate, setting diversion goals and a timeline, and then creating a plan to reach those diversion goals. Preparation of a zero-waste plan would take an estimated two to three years to complete and implement.

Currently, the Pitkin County Landfill runs at about a 60 percent diversion rate, with 40 percent of the trash still ending up getting buried at the landfill. Hall said the ultimate goal is to have zero garbage buried.

“We estimate the cost of preparing a zero-waste plan to be somewhere between $80,000 and $140,000,” Hall said. “The city of Aspen has indicated they would be willing to share in the cost of the study. I think we can get a lot of good information out of the study, which will help the city of Aspen, as well. The cost range depends on how much detail we want to draw from the project.”

The commissioners also supported a landfill staff request to approve an emergency resolution accepting a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The grant will allow a feasibility study to determine the best use of the effluent from the proposed septic wastewater-treatment system at the landfill. The Bureau of Reclamation requires the commissioners to approve the award of the grant despite that the amount has not been determined. Landfill staff requested $124,259 to complete the study.

On Sept. 2, the Bureau of Reclamation informed the commissioners that it requires a signed board resolution approving the grant by Sept. 19, creating the need for an emergency resolution.

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com


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