Talking trash: Snowmass Village looks to future with recycling goals

Britta Gustafson
Special to the Snowmass Sun
The Town of Snowmass Village considers recycling as an important aspect of responsible stewardship to our environment. When done properly, recycling also helps the Town maintain low-cost solid waste services. Reducing waste volume by recycling and waste avoidance helps to reduce solid waste disposal costs..
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun |


The Town of Snowmass Village considers recycling an important aspect of responsible stewardship to our environment. When done properly, recycling also helps the town maintain low-cost solid waste services. Reducing waste volume by recycling and waste avoidance helps to reduce solid waste disposal costs.

Both residential and commercial customers play a critical role in making our recycling program successful by using proper disposal techniques. Contamination is the biggest challenge in maintaining a viable and cost-effective recycling program.

What can be recycled through Snowmass Village pick up?*

Yes: Newspaper, slick glossy cover magazines/catalogs, flattened cardboard, office paper, brown paper bags

phone books, tin or steel cans, aluminum cans, paperboard, paper cardboard/dairy or juice containers, junk mail, glass jars or bottles, aluminum foil, pie tins, plastics No. 1-7

*As of spring 2014, the town of Snowmass Village switched to a single-stream recycling program. With single-stream, all recyclables go into a single bin.

No: Plastic bags, styrofoam containers, peanuts, or any kind of packing material, bubble wrap, plastic film such as vellum or cellophane, ceramic dishware, glassware (wine glasses, etc.), pizza boxes, aerosol cans


For further information on what can be recycled and how, contact the Solid Waste & Recycling Division at 970-923-5110.

Uncertainty seems to be the answer as to what comes next for Snowmass Village waste management once the Pitkin County Landfill reaches its maximum capacity.

“Realistically speaking, we estimate that at the current rate of incoming trash there are about 10 to 11 years of life remaining at this site,” said Cathleen Hall, Solid Waste Manager for the Pitkin County Landfill. She went into depth quantifying data that show trends in trash flow, which seem to align with economic upturns. “At this rate,” she continued, “that is optimistic.”

Hall went on to explain that the landfill has the potential to tack on an additional five to six years, beyond the estimated 10 to 11 years with the planned expansion — which the state still needs to approve.

According to Dave Ogren, Solid Waste Superintendent for the Town of Snowmass Village, there is no need to sound the alarm just yet. “I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and I’m not concerned about the landfill limitations,” Ogren said. He believes the business of interstate commerce will be the solution. “Whether (solid waste) is hauled off to Denver or we see new landfill opportunities in Garfield County or there about, if there is money to be made in the business” — and he believes there is — “it will be taken care of.”

“We are starting to think about what will come next after the Landfill closes,” Hall added. “There are some early thoughts of building a transfer station and long hauling the waste to another landfill. We will be laying out a long-range planning timeline for the (Board of County Commissioners) sometime this year.”

Regardless, she explained, “The future of solid waste management as we currently know it is limited, and the impact can only be slightly offset, without major shifts in diversion practices.”

“Snowmass does do a really great job though, but we can always do more,” Hall said. “I encourage people to take advantage of all of the diversion programs that Pitkin County offers.”

Town residents who are unsure of what they should be doing to add less to the mess can contact the landfill.

Currently they accept and divert many materials including yard waste for mulching, organic compost waste that can become topsoil, paint and lumber offered for resale and much more. As of 2017, diversion programs have expanded to include a free textile drop-off service, which transfers donations to South America, and they have begun a new mattress-recycling program.

“Mattresses are not collected by solid waste and recycling services in Snowmass, and they do not condense properly in the Landfill,” Hall said. Ogren also added that a mattress left by the side of a dumpster will be considered contaminated and unsuitable for recycling, further contributing to the solid waste problem at the landfill.

Every Snowmass Village resident receives a $100 landfill credit with proof of residency and many reusable materials are accepted free of charge. Above all, Hall still encourages individuals to try to take extra steps to reduce and reuse whenever possible.

Ogren agreed that we should all play a role in creating less waste, “but if you really want to be ‘green’ in general,” he explained, “ask yourself, ‘How do I shop?’ and create less waste up front.” He emphasized how front-end consumer behavior has a greater impact on individual levels of trash production than the diversion options offered for sorting out final solid waste from recycling.

“Always remember when the UPS man brings a box I’m going to be hauling it away,” Ogren said.

To begin doing our part here in Snowmass, the town adopted the current Sustainability Plan, written and put into effect by the Snowmass Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) back in 2009.

One of the more tangible goals the plan has in place is referred to as the “20 by 20” goal, an EAB initiative to raise community awareness and participation in both reducing solid waste and carbon admissions by 2020.

“Twenty by 20 is a culmination of two of our main sustainability goals,” said Travis Elliott, Assistant to the Town Manager and EAB Town Liaison.

“The first goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020,” he said. “The second is to continue increasing our solid waste diversion rate to 20 percent by 2020. In other words, less emissions, more diversion.”

The Snowmass waste audit, done in 2016, shows that the Town’s current diversion rate is at about 17 percent, while carbon emissions have reduced by 9 percent since 2009. Councilman Tom Goode emphasized, “any reduction (on carbon emissions) is progress.”

“We did see an increase in the quantity of recycled materials once we switched over to a ‘single-stream’ system, but that doesn’t mean the practice has improved. The quality of recyclables has gone down while the levels of contaminants have gone up,” Ogren said.

He believes the goals should be more about quality than quantity. “If you are going to recycle, because let’s face it — it makes you feel good — than do it right.”

So, how should you recycle? Mixed messages about protocol are as abundant as our trash heaps.

At the landfill, Hall explained, “There is some expected contamination in the recycling stream.” For example, “Some food residue is acceptable, still scrape out what you can.” She said, “Waste Management would rather you save the water than make your recyclables crystal clean. The lower we can keep the contamination the lower we can keep costs. Jar and bottle lids are removed during the recycling processing. However, liquids should be emptied out prior to tossing in the recycling bin.”

Ogren disagreed that “the cleaner the recyclable starts out upstream, the more likely it will be accepted down the line.”

The majority of our valley’s recyclables make their way to Denver. According to Denver recycling guidelines, “Denverites don’t need to rinse all containers — just roughly 30 percent of them, like milk, juice, yogurt and peanut butter containers.”

Confused? Guidelines for recycling seem as clear as mud, and requirements are different in every major center. For example, Chicago residents don’t need to rinse a thing, while Memphis does not require rinsing except for plastic bottles and steel cans. Meanwhile in San Francisco, all materials must be rinsed prior to recycling.

“Plastic bags are a different beast,” Hall cautioned. “They do need to be removed if at all possible. They tangle in the equipment and can shut a plant down.”

Recycling may seem to have a ways to go before the efficiency matches the efforts, therefore on an individual level, despite limited landfill space, when in doubt, throw it out. In other words, both the landfill and town waste solutions agree, “If you don’t know if it is a contaminant, don’t guess, throw it out. It has a far worse carbon footprint if it has to be shipped all the way to a sorting facility in Denver only to than be determined as landfill waste,” Ogren said.

But even worse waste practices can cause far more environmental damage than attempting to recycle a pizza box. For example, Ogren explained how throwing out liquids in the trash can have serious environmental leeching implications regardless of the liquid.

“Any liquid, organic or even water, can cause a chemical reaction when it leaks through a system of buried garbage that could contain any number of chemicals that may be activated when wet and then leech into the Earth,” he said.

According to Ogren, a serious incident occurred last year in Snowmass Village when a powdered pool treatment chemical, which by itself can be considered safe solid waste, came in contact with an organic liquid, producing an extremely dangerous chemical reaction that actually required fire department intervention.

At the landfill, Hall also explained the double whammy effect of throwing out organic waste.

One major common misconception is that organic materials will still break down once they are sent to their final resting place in the landfill. “That is a huge myth,” Hall said. “Organic waste is the largest percentage of waste that is buried by weight at the landfill; and unfortunately when organics breakdown in the anearobic environment in any landfill it creates methane, which is a 21 to 30 times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

However, composting is still a challenge around Snowmass. The major concern is wildlife control. All parties involved recognize how individual outdoor composting is outlawed for a reason. “You can pick up a free indoor compost bin at the landfill but please be sure it stays inside,” Hall said. And personal compost drop-off is also free for individuals at the landfill.

During a recent presentation to the Snowmass Town Council, EAB representatives showed a rate of improvement that has taken place since the town’s 2009 Sustainability Plan began its implementation.

“The plan itself was created and adopted after a significant outreach process that outlined the priorities of the community,” said Elliott on behalf of the EAB. “The Town Council also re-iterated our commitment to the natural environment through their adoption of their strategic goals.”

“We need everyone’s help in order to reach the 20 by 20 goals, and there are several easy steps community members can take to help get us there,” Elliott said.

He went on to explain that private homeowners can sign up for a Free Home Energy Assessment through CORE and take advantage of their rebates to improve energy efficiency or to implement renewable energy.

“If you are not already,” Elliott said, “please begin recycling and composting in your home or business. Use reusable items when possible, such as refillable water bottles, reusable shopping bags, etc.”

Elliot encouraged everyone to join community members and participate in Town Clean Up Day on June 2 and also to check out the electric vehicle “ride and drive” expo, where significant discounts and tax credits are available for new electric vehicle purchases.

“Or, better yet,” he said, “ditch the car and take the free village shuttle.”


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