Welcome to the dump
August 29, 2008
ASPEN Nowhere is it more true that one mans trash is another mans treasure than at the Pitkin County dump.In a valley where the well-to-do think nothing of tossing away perfectly good household items to make way for new, more fashionable replacements, countless common folk take advantage of others lavish lifestyles. Hordes of people routinely pick off one-of-a-kind freebies in the salvage area at the dump, with many treasure seekers showing up on a weekly, if not daily basis.I have had the best experience over there, said Suzanne Clarke, a self-proclaimed ski bum who lives in Paonia in the summer and cares for an absentee-owned Aspen home during the winter.I have lived in Aspen for 30 years and I have been going to the dump just as long, she said. Almost my whole house is furnished with stuff from there.Clarke is a big fan of chairs, mostly because they fit nicely in her Subaru. Shes got three armchairs in her home, one of which is leather. Shes also picked up patio furniture, bookcases, filing cabinets, two-by-fours for projects around the house, bike parts and more.The quality is amazing … [people] dont care about throwing it away because its Aspen, but for me, everything Ive picked up has had some sort of meaning, she said.Theres even amicable competition among scavengers vying for the same item, she added: One time there was some teak lawn furniture and we all split it up and one guy even helped me load it up.When Dylan Hoffman worked at the landfill as an outreach coordinator he constantly found gems. My trailer in Gerbazdale was almost exclusively furnished with things salvaged from there, he said, adding hes retrieved chairs, a kitchen table, a couch, an end table, a coffee pot and dishes. From her window, Pitkin County Solid Waste Center Office Manager Hilary Burgess sees plenty of scavenging, mostly from those who are dumping other refuse and a few individuals who come regularly. She added that the good stuff doesnt last long.This past Monday there was a gorgeous chaise lounge, she said. But its a lot of hit and miss, and for sure a lot of miss.One recent day the free zone was filled with many misses, including boxes of circa-1980 sewing patterns, as well as two couches, a dehumidifier, a bathtub, a pair of old boots, doors, a desk, a few pieces of furniture, purses, a mailbox, a cookie tin and some sippy cups.Pitkin County Solid Waste Manager Chris Hoofnagle remembered a pair of walrus tusks that someone dropped off; they ended up in an antique store in Redstone, where they sold for a hefty price. But the real hot items are construction materials, he said, which are typically picked up quickly by those in the industry.Not everything is worth salvaging, so its up to the employees at the landfills entrance to determine whats valuable. And at the end of their shift, if an item is still there, the employees can take it.You have to convince the person at the gate that its good, Hoofnagle said. Its a moving target and a bone of contention among the staff [on whats worthy].There isnt a lot of debate when area ski shops switch out their inventories and drop off hundreds of pieces of equipment, which happens annually.If after a few weeks an item is still in the salvage area, it goes into the landfill.Scavenging is not a new concept in Aspen Freddie the Fixit Fisher often frequented the old city dump, where Iselin Field and the Aspen Recreation Center now sit. Fisher is considered the first recycler in town. His daughter, Susan Fox, remembers accompanying her dad to the city dump as a kid and pursuing her own treasures McCalls magazines and their paper cut-out dolls.
The salvage area is a community service that most landfills dont offer, Hoofnagle said, but its also one of many programs aimed at extending the life of the landfill and putting waste to productive use.If we dumped everything in here, wed close in five years, he said, adding the landfill has about 20 years left at the current consumption rate. Each one of our programs serves the life of the landfill.Pitkin County owns 250 acres around the landfill, which has a 35-acre footprint and a capacity of 5.5 million cubic yards. The hole is 250 feet deep at its deepest point, and every day refuse is pushed around via bulldozer, buried and covered.Its a huge valley and we fill it like a dome, Hoofnagle said. We have a landfill and we arent afraid to use it but, also, a landfill is a terrible thing to waste.In metropolitan areas where there is plenty of land, landfills quickly fill up and new ones are created because there is plenty of money to be made on them. But Pitkin County, which comprises mostly public land and some of the highest-priced private land in the world, doesnt have that luxury.Landfilling is the cheapest waste management there is, Hoofnagle said. But the management trick is battling how to keep [ours] going.
Hoofnagle hopes to extend the landfills life with a proposed solid-waste impact fee aimed at diverting waste generated from D and C, also known as demolition and construction debris.Construction waste is filling the county landfill at an unprecedented rate nearly double what other communities experience. In 2007, of the 183,445 cubic yards of waste delivered to the landfill, 116,510 cubic yards were construction and demolition debris, according to Hoofnagle. The remainder is standard trash generated by homes and businesses.For most landfills, a quarter of the waste is from demolition and construction, Hoofnagle said. Ours is two-thirds.Roofs, walls, foundations, steel, pipe, brick and other construction items are chewed up by a grinder and then spit out 50 percent smaller than their original volume. These materials are then combined with the regular refuse and used as a daily cover.But the grinder, which has been in full-time operation since March, is expensive to operate, requiring full-time operators and additional equipment, Hoofnagle said. To cover those costs, the county is rethinking its fee structure. Builders will pay at the front end of a project with a fee assessed by the building department, as well as the back end with a tip fee at the dump. Under Hoofnagles proposal, the new front-end fee would cost builders 27 cents per square foot on all new construction and would be assessed when a building permit is granted. The city of Aspen and Pitkin County have signed off on the new assessment; if Basalt and Snowmass Village also agree, the fee could be lower.
The landfills oldest waste-diversion program is the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), established in 1993. The MRF (pronounced murph) is a traditional recycling center that sorts cardboard, office paper, newspaper and magazines, as well as No. 1 and 2 plastics. Those materials are baled, hauled to Denver and then sold at market. The operation saves landfill space, but is a money-loser.There is not enough in revenue to come close to paying for it because we are so far away, Hoofnagle said. We are getting a maybe a couple of dollars per ton, plus we have to pay for shipping.
A composting program at the landfill is designed to keep further material from being buried. Lumber and brush are mixed with human waste and made into compost. It cooks at a certain temperature for six to nine months, is tested and then sold to the public.Its a significant portion of keeping the landfill alive, Hoofnagle said. The volume has increased tremendously.
Started in 2001, the aggregate recovery program aims to keep dirt and rock from being buried. Large rocks from a basement excavation, for example, are reduced into 3-inch rock by a crusher and then sold to contractors who need it for backfill and road base.Before, if contractors dropped off dirt, it went into the trash, Hoofnagle said. Last year, the program produced 67,000 tons of aggregate material and this year Hoofnagle expects 80,000 tons. By itself, Hoofnagle estimates the aggregate effort alone will add two years to the landfills life.Crews at the landfill are now crushing the aggregate into three-quarter inch rock to be used for daily cover for the dump and as base for new roads at the facility. It also is available for sale and can be used for parking lots.We are constantly changing here, he said, adding piles of wood, tires, metal and boulders also are separated and sold to the public. All of these are individual industries.
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Most landfills in metropolitan areas charge one fee to users, and then quickly fill up the hole and create a new one. But in Pitkin County, tip fees are structured to discourage people from dumping certain materials.Differential pricing encourages people to recycle, Hoofnagle said. Each program is another chip at extending the life of the landfill.The landfills programs and fees cover the costs of its business activities, its eventual closure and environmental liabilities. … On a per-ton basis, the landfill operations earn the most and the traditional recycling earns the least, Hoofnagle said. Compost and aggregate are in between and cover themselves. We do know that the trash pays for the recycling to the tune of at least $500,000. The overall landfill operations are self-sustaining, including setting aside money each year to pay for the closure of the facility and post-closure care for 30 years.The landfill operation nets between $50,000 and $100,000 annually, and goes directly into a capital improvement fund. But Hoofnagle said thats not nearly enough to replace the current landfill after it closes, but Pitkin County commissioners are mapping out a strategy.Twenty five years from now this will be closed and youll need that money to build something else, Hoofnagle said. email@example.com