High Country Conservation Center: Solving Summit County’s recycling crisis
December 1, 2016
As you may be aware, there is a potential recycling and solid waste crisis looming in Summit County. You, like many of us, may be asking yourself questions like: What is this waste ordinance everyone is talking about? What is happening with recycling in our community? Is recycling “going away” soon? How could that possibly happen?
Unfortunately, there is a conflict between our community’s passion for recycling and our waste haulers’ focus on profits. This issue began with Timberline Disposal, LLC, one of three primary waste haulers in Summit County, when Timberline made a business decision to take our community’s waste to a Front Range dump rather than to our local Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP).
Timberline’s profit-based decision will result in a projected $1-million loss to Summit County’s solid waste revenue in 2017. Because solid waste revenue funds local recycling programs, there are substantial budget cuts proposed in 2017; including closing the Frisco and Breckenridge recycling centers, discontinuing High Country Conservation Center’s recycling education funding of $90,000 per year, and cutting all SCRAP capital expenditures.
This budget shortfall has implications far beyond recycling, with impacts affecting our entire solid waste system and the future of all SCRAP operations, including the landfill. The county has invested millions of dollars into the SCRAP to meet our community’s needs. These costs include environmental remediation of the site before the county took on operations, as well as compliance costs to ensure protection of our local water and air quality. Because of our community’s commitment to diverting waste, the county and taxpayers have also invested in a Materials Recovery Facility (to process recyclables) and a commercial compost operation. Our SCRAP is one of the most progressive facilities in the Colorado mountains, and we’re proud of our community’s recycling and composting accomplishments.
Of course, it’s our goal to see less and less trash going into our landfill. But in our current reality, most of our waste is still landfilled and until that paradigm shift occurs in our society, we are going to need a landfill.
If you’re an avid recycler, you may be asking why we are advocating for the support of a landfill operation into the future. Of course, it’s our goal to see less and less trash going into our landfill. But in our current reality, most of our waste is still landfilled and until that paradigm shift occurs in our society, we are going to need a landfill. We need to take responsibility for our community’s waste and not ship it off to become another community’s burden. Even when we achieve our goal of zero waste and close our landfill in the future, there are long-term costs to maintain the landfill after closure to ensure public safety. This means that in addition to the SCRAP’s ongoing operating costs, the county must build up a reserve fund for future landfill closure and compliance costs in perpetuity. The bottom line is that to continue to divert more waste away from the landfill, we need to support all of our community’s solid waste programs.
Timberline and Summit County government have recently met to discuss potential solutions, and Timberline has taken trash to the SCRAP again in the past two weeks. We are encouraged that the county and private haulers are working together to solve this issue, and we applaud Timberline for once again supporting our local economy. However, there needs to be a more permanent solution put in place to ensure our community’s recycling and solid waste future. Without a municipal ordinance, Timberline could easily begin taking trash to the Front Range again when the weather becomes more favorable, making that business model profitable during the summer.
Summit County and local municipalities are considering adopting ordinances that would require locally generated waste and recycling to stay in Summit County, allowing those revenues to support community recycling and composting. Hauling trash more than 70 miles from its source not only takes revenue from our community, but it also generates vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and burdens other communities with waste we generated.
So what do we do now? Each of us has the opportunity to play an important role in deciding how this turns out. Here in Summit County we can truly affect positive change, or we can stand by and allow corporate greed (although they would sell it to you as “free market enterprise”) to trample our decades of cumulative efforts to protect our environment.
Now is the time to reach out to your local town councils and county commissioners to ask them to adopt an ordinance to keep local trash revenues in Summit County supporting our recycling and solid waste programs. If you are a customer of Timberline Disposal, please implore them to continue to take your trash to the SCRAP and check your bills to see if you’ve saved any money as a result of their decision to take your trash to the Front Range during the past six months. As a longstanding business in this community, and a past supporter of HC3, we sincerely hope Timberline will do the right thing by continuing to support Summit County’s local recycling programs.
In an unrelated development affecting local recycling, Waste Management recently closed their Silverthorne recycling site and is now only accepting sorted glass. Now many Silverthorne residents have lost access to local recycling. Unfortunately, getting recycling back in Silverthorne isn’t as simple as passing an ordinance. We need citizens to reach out directly to Silverthorne Town Council and Waste Management to propose solutions on this important issue.
This Friday, let your voice be heard at a community recycling forum. The Summit Daily is hosting a “Let’s Talk Recycling” Forum on Friday, Dec. 2 at 9 a.m. at the Frisco Community and Senior Center. Please join the Summit Daily, HC3 and local elected officials to learn more about this issue, voice your opinion and work together on solutions. Thanks for getting engaged in this important community issue.
— Board of directors, High Country Conservation Center
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