Recycling initiative: Try it or trash it?
August 4, 2005
Nearly a year after the Aspen City Council called for a citywide recycling initiative, a controversial ordinance that would make recycling pickup available to all residents and businesses in town is ready for what is likely to be lively debate.A public hearing on the measure is scheduled before the council on Aug. 22, despite opposition from at least some members of the business community and, quite possibly, some of the private garbage haulers who work in Aspen.Vocal in their opposition are members of the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission. They’re concerned about the potential added costs and a jump in the number of trips through downtown alleyways that will be necessary to pick up recyclables – and the resulting noise and traffic. Haulers have complained there isn’t room in the alleys to provide containers for recycling in the commercial core.”We feel we’ve got the logistics worked out,” said Jannette Murison, the city’s senior environmental health specialist. “What we’re proposing is cutting-edge. It’s citywide recycling – it’s cutting edge for Colorado.”The ordinance contains two main provisions: First, all garbage haulers working in the city must provide pickup of recyclables to those who want it and must include it in their base price; second, yard waste will no longer be permitted in garbage. Yard waste must be kept separate and will go to the composting operation at the Pitkin County Landfill.The city is assessing the options for a dropoff site for yard waste somewhere in town.The recycling of household products will remain voluntary, Murison said. It won’t be against the law to toss newspapers and aluminum cans out with the trash. In other communities, though, similar ordinances have resulted in increased recycling.Boulder and Fort Collins, for example, already require the curbside pickup of recyclables as part of the base price for residents who contract with a trash hauler, Murison said. After Fort Collins adopted that approach, the number of residents who recycled jumped from 48 percent to 98 percent, according to Murison’s research.While the base price for garbage pickup could increase, as haulers hike rates to cover their costs, some residents may actually see a drop in their costs since haulers must charge based on the volume of trash they collect, Murison said. Recycling reduces one’s trash output.The long-term cost savings, she said, come with prolonging the life of the county landfill. The cost of garbage services will go up dramatically once the landfill is no longer available, Murison predicted.While community recycling is not unique, Aspen’s approach – applying it to the commercial sector, as well – puts the city ahead of the pack, Murison said.That aspect is also what troubles the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission.Commission member Stan Hajenga, general manager of the Mountain Chalet, said he doubts the business community knows what’s coming.”It’s not that they don’t want to recycle. That’s not the issue,” he said.But Hajenga worries the ordinance will mean many more truck trips down alleyways, adding to the town’s traffic and disturbing guests in downtown lodges.”It’s something that tourists complain about,” he said.Murison said the city is willing to help businesses that share an alley work out the shared use of recycling containers and coordinating to contract with a single hauler to empty them, but Hajenga wonders why the city isn’t mandating such joint efforts in its approvals of new hotels that go up in the same neighborhood.”If this is such an important issue, how come it hasn’t been part of all these approvals?” he said.The recycling proposal is “half-assed,” according to Bill Dinsmoor, chairman of the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission and owner of the Main Street Bakery and Cafe.”We’re convinced it’s not going to work,” he said. “It ain’t gonna fly and even worse than that, we think it’s a setback.”The new ordinance has been modified as a result of the commission’s input, though, Murison said.For example, it contains a sunset provision that lets it expire in three years unless the City Council decides to renew it. And, if it’s adopted, the ordinance will go into effect in 90 days instead of the usual 30, allowing more time to educate the community.In addition, the ordinance will not affect existing contracts with garbage haulers. A business that just signed a three-year contract, for example, won’t be affected until that contract expires, Murison said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org