Recycling costs money, and Pitkin County consumers will have to pay |

Recycling costs money, and Pitkin County consumers will have to pay

So, which do you want to pay for your recycling services: Pitkin County or a private waste hauler?

One way or another — through a property tax bill or a monthly or quarterly invoice —residents of unincorporated Pitkin County will have to bear the cost burden.

On Tuesday, Pitkin County commissioners held their second discussion about the county’s recycling program, which is presently losing upwards of $350,000 per year. They all agreed that the leak must be plugged but weren’t certain how to do it.

Solid Waste Manager Cathy Hall and Public Works Director Brian Pettet suggested two courses of action:

• Maintain the existing system of recycling collection centers around the county, but find another revenue stream to make up the shortfall;

• Require waste haulers in the unincorporated county to provide curbside pickup of recyclable materials and essentially get the county out of the recycling business.

Since the county began its voluntary recycling program in the late 1980s, the entire trash-hauling and recycling industry has changed, county staff members reported.

“It’s time to talk about changing the way we do business” Pettet said. “We now have commercial haulers doing their own recycling in the valley, and that’s the primary condition that has changed.”

Commissioners didn’t seem wedded to either of the suggestions. They asked for more information to differentiate the options and floated various thoughts about the current situation.

Commissioner Rob Ittner asked, “Which option would create more recycling?” The more material the county can divert from the landfill, the better, commissioners agreed. Ittner also wondered whether the county could reduce the flow of red ink by boosting the so-called “tipping fees” charged at the landfill gate.

Commissioner George Newman expressed some reservations about the existing program, outside of the budgetary shortfall. The recycling centers in Aspen and Basalt have become dumping grounds for all kinds of household throwaways, he said.

“The Basalt center is probably the worst,” Newman said. “I’ve seen mattresses there. I’ve seen TVs there. You name it, it’s getting dumped there.”

Commissioner Steve Child said he wants to ensure that Pitkin County residents continue to recycle as much as possible and that it’s convenient for them to do so. But “reducing the subsidy that Pitkin County is paying” is also important, he added.

County staff members seemed to think that mandating curbside pickup in the county would be the best bet. Pettet said the county essentially could mimic the city of Aspen’s existing system, which also would offer consistency across both jurisdictions.

“People would be paying for mandatory curbside pickup whether they use it or not,” he said. “The theory is people would recycle more because they’re paying for it.”

In fact, Hall added, haulers have reported that mandatory curbside pickup typically results in a 30 percent increase in the amount of recyclables collected.

“We’ve had some discussions with private haulers that this is a feasible option,” she said.

However, she added, it likely would mean a cost increase of $20 to $60 per month for consumers. How that compares to a countywide mill levy remains to be seen.

“The question really is how do customers want to pay for this,” Ittner said. “They’re going to pay for it one way or another.”

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