Garratt Hasenstab: No recycling in Summit County?
Soon, that could be a new reality for our Summit County community. What do you mean “no recycling in Summit County?” Well, the situation is a bit of a conundrum really. By 2012, the numbers reveal we will not be able to afford the luxury of the seemingly free recycling program that we all currently enjoy.
The current economic downturn has significantly affected the traditional funding sources used to support local government recycling programs. Disposal tonnages, and hence revenues, have dropped significantly. What we are facing is a daunting task – essentially developing a new business model for recycling that includes sustainable funding sources moving forward.
Here in Summit County, tipping-fee revenues (the price charged to deliver waste to our landfill) pay for our recycling program. Our recycling program costs approximately $500,000 a year to support. For the last several years, we as a county have been creating less and less waste. Not because we are diverting more recyclable material from the landfill, which would be great, but in fact we are recycling approximately the same amount annually over this period of time. The amount of waste being delivered to the landfill has been shrinking year-over-year due in large part to the Great Recession’s impact on the construction industry: If we’re not building, we’re not creating construction waste, which is a large factor in tipping fee revenues and recycling program funding.
We are all going to need to work together to seek out and implement solutions to this issue. This really is a vital issue for our county, because protecting, preserving and conserving our natural, high-country environment is critically essential to drawing the millions of tourism visits (and associated dollars) per year that propels our economy. If we don’t remain socially responsible, we could face a very different future.
There are solutions to this conundrum. One solution may be to impose a mil levy on property taxes across the county, such as a fraction of 1 percent, which could be equivalent to $25-40 per property owner, depending on the size of their property. Alternatively, we could opt for a Pay-As-You-Throw system (PAYT) where residents are charged for solid waste collection services based on the amount of waste (regular trash) they set out for collection. However, they are not charged anything for recyclables collection services, regardless of the quantities of recyclables they set out. Also, there is simply the drop-off fee method where you would be charged to drop off your recyclable materials. But would this discourage people from recycling? I believe that is likely, which makes this not an good option.
There are opportunities in other states where legislation has been enacted to provide government grants to support municipal recycling programs, such as that in Pennsylvania. “Recycling is a growth industry with many kinds of business opportunities, from waste management to manufacturing to inventing new technologies,” said Gov. Edward Rendell of that state. “These grants give residents greater access to waste reduction and recycling opportunities, helping to ensure a healthy environment and strong economy.”
Isn’t that a good idea?
I have spoken with several experts in our community closely familiar with this issue, and the consensus seems to be the citizens of Summit County will have to determine the best solution, because none of the current solutions are going to be overwhelmingly accepted. Admittedly, given the current economic climate, nobody is going to be excited about new tax proposals or additional fees, but it is what it is, so let’s talk about this and figure it out, then we can all thank each other for a job well done.
Ultimately, the reliance on waste collection fees to pay for recycling services is an unsustainable funding option. So, let’s add this challenge to our community dialogue now and solve it before it becomes a problem. I know for a fact there are so many bright, creative and innovative people in our community who can put their heads together and develop solutions that not only can resolve this issue, but could serve as a beacon of sustainability best practices for other communities across the nation facing similar issues.
Garratt Hasenstab lives in Frisco and is chief sustainability officer for the Verdigris Group, a green building and real estate consulting firm with offices in Chicago, Denver and Frisco.
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