Ask Eartha: Recycling isn’t free |

Ask Eartha: Recycling isn’t free

by Eartha Steward

Why does it cost extra to recycle some things, like computers and appliances? Doesn’t that discourage people from recycling? I think it should all be free!

– Jake, Summit County

Well, Jake, you probably know I love to talk trash, so thanks for the opportunity. The short answer is that recycling just isn’t free. It might be if trucks ran on good karma. Did you know that this whole community recycling program started at the very roots of the word grassroots, with volunteers sorting and slinging recyclables in their own cars for years? Now that’s good recycling karma.

Plain and simple: It costs money to drive trucks, smash things, sort things, and ship materials to market. While revenue can be generated from the sale of recyclable materials, it’s not enough to cover the cost of collection, sorting and transportation.

Let’s take a look at what we can recycle in Summit County. Summit County’s drop-off centers, in Frisco at the County Commons and in Breckenridge off of County Road 450 collect dozens of materials for free – including glass bottles and jars of all colors, mixed paper (like newspaper, magazines, office paper and junk mail), tin and aluminum cans, cardboard and paperboard (cereal boxes and other similar items), and #1 and #2 plastic bottles and jugs.

Here in Summit County, you can also recycle batteries of any kind (car, household, rechargeable, etc), scrap metal for free at the Frisco and Breckenridge drop-off centers.

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Keep in mind that all of the above items still cost money to recycle (for collection, sorting and shipping). Some of those materials generate revenue from their sale, but not all of them. In the end, the Summit County Recycling Program strives to find balance between revenue generating materials and collecting those that cost money – particularly those that are bulky or hazardous.

Televisions, computer monitors, CPUs and laptops, all of which contain heavy metals and very toxic materials (like mercury, cadmium and zinc), are collected at the Resource Allocation Park at the Summit County landfill any time during regular operating hours. Here is where the fees you refer to come in. It costs you, the customer $8 per CPU/laptop or monitor and $13 per TV (under 25″, greater than 25″ is $.20/lb) to recycle. This is just a fraction of what it costs the recycling program to recycle those hazardous materials.

Household Hazardous Wastes (like paint, pesticides, mercury containing devices, cleaners, chemicals, cleaners, adhesives, etc) should never be disposed of in the trash. Instead, they should be properly disposed of at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility (HHW) at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park. These items are more difficult and hazardous to dispose of so they cost a little more to recycle, but the County keeps the prices low in an effort to encourage people to use the program. The program actually costs tens of thousands of dollars each year to operate.

All in all, we’re pretty lucky we have so many affordable recycling options in Summit County. Even in the old days of nonprofit recycling, the community absorbed some of the cost – perhaps more as volunteer hours and tolerating broken trucks and muddy drop-off centers. Even though times have changed, we still need the community’s support to help us out.

If you want to help, we can always use it! High Country Conservation Center is seeking volunteers to help staff the drop-off centers and generally help the public recycle better. Volunteers will be asked to attend a short, informative and fun training session prior to volunteering.

Consider helping us get the word out – grassroots style! For more information on recycling, or to sign up to volunteer, contact us at (970) 668-5703 or

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Submit questions to Eartha at