Breckenridge takes another look at Pay-As-You-Throw recycling

In the coming weeks, Breckenridge Town Council will be presented with a draft ordinance to consider a Pay-As-You-Throw program in the town.
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

As municipalities across the state address how they are approaching recycling, officials tasked with environment and sustainability efforts are working on a draft ordinance to be presented to the Town Council of Breckenridge.

Based on current projections, Summit County’s landfill will close in 2056, and without mitigation that date could come sooner. The county has four options: increase recycling to extend life of the landfill, expand the Summit County Resource Allocation Park landfill, transfer waste outside Summit County or construct a waste-to-energy plant. 

In the coming weeks, the council will be presented with an ordinance about diversion and recycling. 

“A few years ago, the landfill over in Grand County closed,” Jen Schenk, executive director of High Country Conservation Center, said. “So right now there are two landfills, and they’re both closed. Residents are now paying double and triple of what they were paying before because their waste is going out of the community down to the Front Range.”

The Pay-As-You-Throw program applies to residential trash carts. It would have volume-based trash service levels with associated variable pricing that aims to incentivize recycling. A Universal Recycling Ordinance would apply to multi-family housing and businesses, and recycling service would be required for all entities with trash service. Pay-As-You-Throw would be implemented over a span of a few months, and a Universal Recycling Ordinance would take a couple of years. 

In 2011, the Town of Breckenridge set a goal of 40% waste diversion in the SustainableBreck Plan by 2020. This goal will be proposed again in the plan’s update with a target date of 2032. In addition, the Climate Action Plan requires a 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from waste by 2050 in order to reach greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Each jurisdiction that adopts Pay-As-You-Throw and Universal Recycling will need to contribute staff time and funding. Staff time is estimated at 25 hours per month for the first six months, 10 hours per month through 2025 and only nominal staff time needed after 2025. Breckenridge’s 2023 budget contribution for the programs is estimated at $150,000.

This amount includes cart distribution and exchange support for residents, support for residents earning less than 80% area median income, and a grant program to assist commercial accounts that need to come into compliance with an implemented Universal Recycling Ordinance. There would be similar budget requests for 2024 and 2025 because commercial properties have until June 2025 to meet ordinance requirements. Officials do not anticipate that this program will require additional appropriations beyond 2025 once the program has been fully implemented. 

Communities with Pay-As-You-Throw
Mountain communities Front Range communities
Frisco (in progress)Fort Collins
Glenwood Springs (in progress)Golden
Grand JunctionLafayette
New CastleLongmont
Source: The State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado

The High Country Conservation Center conducted a survey in January to gather public opinion of Pay-As-You-Throw. Of the responses, 275 were from residents, and 63 responses came from businesses, homeowners associations and property managers. 

Residents cited environmental stewardship as the primary program benefit, with many comments advocating for reducing carbon pollution and extending the life of the landfill. Concerns from residents included potential increases in costs, lack of proper recycling, short-term renters not understanding guidelines and overall recycling contamination. Residents also recommended education and outreach including clear recycling guidelines, and they would like to realize decreased costs when the program rolls out — especially if they choose a smaller trash can size. 

Laurie Batchelder Adams, a consultant, said that right now, households that produce less trash are subsidizing ones that make more, since all trash fees are the same across the board. With varying the size of trash cans, this could allow for households that produce less to save money and pay less. In Carbondale, 91% of residents either pay the same or less than they did before it was implemented. 

“What’s happening is small households are heavily subsidizing other folks. That’s not equitable,” she said. “Pay-As-You-Throw turns out on its ear by having multiple cart sizes and tiered pricing. It’s much more of a utility-based program. You can opt for whatever service level you need, and you pay the corresponding price. Trash less, pay less.”

Schenk added that for low to medium income households, there will be support if trash bills do go up, as well. In other parts of the state, various municipalities have already implemented a similar structure for recycling and waste. Those include Rifle, Telluride, Aspen, Vail and several others on the Front Range. 

In the coming weeks, a draft ordinance will be presented to the Town Council for approval.

“(Recycling clamshell containers) is like a minuscule portion of our diversion potential. Where we get the most diversion is out of cardboard, aluminum metal (and) your typical plastic water bottles,” said Jessie Burley, sustainability and parking manager.

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