Summit County is cutting edge in waste management |

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Summit County is cutting edge in waste management

The task force assigned to find a way to make the county’s recycling and landfill operations financial sustainable is about halfway through the process.

The group of nearly 30 members met on Monday to brainstorm the ideal system. Though finances were part of the discussion, the crux of the financial model won’t come until July and August meetings.

Waste Management, Timberline Disposal and Talking Trash representatives sit at the table with municipal, county and vested organization representatives to find a solution to a landfill that needs volume for funding in a county that wants to divert as much waste as possible through free or inexpensive recycling, composting and special waste pick-up.

In October 2011, Summit County officials proposed imposing a flow control measure that would require haulers to take all garbage picked up in the county to the county landfill. Negative feedback pulled the idea off the table, but it did draw enough attention to create the task force.

Now, the task force goal is to see if a community strategy can be developed without implementing flow control. Though it’s off the table for now, Summit County Commissioners reserve the right to put it in place in an emergency. The target for a task force resolution is August.

A survey of the group, which was selected to represent the interests of the county’s constituents, showed that the most important thing to keep in place are the free drop-off recycling centers that are open all day and night. Task force members said the source-separated method is working, though they discussed the possibility of single stream recycling – or compiling all recyclables in one bin.

Most members agreed that single-stream recycling, or allowing all materials to be mixed, would be ideal, but hesitated to move in that direction for a variety of reasons.

The materials recovery facility, or MRF for short, can bale the materials for transfer to the Front Range, but that limits the Summit County facility’s ability to harness the full revenue potential of the materials. To be able to sort the materials so they can be resold would require a more than $750,000 investment to upgrade the MRF to sort the materials.

Moving to single-stream recycling could double, triple or quadruple recycling rates in the county, according to data collected by consultant Laurie Batchelder Adams, who is running the task force meetings. Increasing recycling volume would maximize revenue by taking full advantage of the facility’s potential – and could help reduce the approximately $400,000 subsidy currently in place to keep recycling free in Summit County.

After significant discussion, members agreed that the ideal system would have the MRF accepting single-stream recycling, glass included, to bale and send to the Front Range.

Task force members agreed it would be ideal to pay haulers to bring their materials in – both to encourage loyalty as well as to potentially harness Waste Management’s market share – though they were unsure if the model could support it.

Summit County staff was tasked with assessing how much volume might be expected in different scenarios, and the income versus operational costs that might result.

Questions abounded about whether residents and homeowners associations would pay for recycling. Task force members also wanted to find a way to break into multi-family units that don’t currently offer recycling.

Bringing residential organics composting (food and yard waste) into the mix was tabled for the short-term, though there’s popular demand for it. Task force members also decided to exclude accepting items for reuse from their ideal system.

There was some discussion of maximizing High County Compost’s sales as a revenue source, and adding recycling drop-off sites in Blue River and near Heeney to pull in more participation. Haulers said a pilot project north of Silverthorne was extremely successful.

Task force members want to provide hazardous waste, electronic waste, fluorescent lightbulb, battery, appliance and waste oil and grease collections opportunities, but they weren’t sure of the costs of the various options for doing so while encouraging diversion to the fullest potential.

“We need to get it out of the landfill. We need to make it easier for people to dispose of these things properly,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said, though he recognized the challenge is finding a way to not charge for special waste drop-off.