High Country Conservation Center hopes to receive local support for new recycling programs

A dumpster bin for recycling cardboard is pictured at the recycling center in Frisco on Dec. 27, 2019. Proposed programs would incentivize recycling for local businesses and residents.
Deepan Dutta/Summit Daily News archive

The High Country Conservation Center hopes potential pay-as-you-throw and universal recycling programs will inch Summit County closer to meeting climate goals, but the nonprofit has yet to receive approval from most local governments.

Summit County currently has a 20% diversion rate — the amount of waste that is reduced, reused or recycled rather than thrown in the landfill. If the entire county were to adopt the pay-as-you-throw and universal recycling programs, which would both change the way recycling is done in the county through incentives and access, that rate could jump to 40%, said Jen Schenk, executive director of the conservation center.

The pay-as-you-throw program would apply to any residents who use bin collection for their trash pick-up. The program turns waste into a utility like electricity or water, charging households based on the amount of trash they throw away.

Currently, households pay a flat rate for trash service with additional fees for recycling. If adopted, residents with curbside pickup would choose between small, medium or large trash bins with the small option being the least expensive.

The universal recycling program applies to residents who share dumpster services with neighbors as well as businesses, which often use a dumpster for waste. The program would require those properties to add recycling bins, which is not currently a universal requirement throughout the county.

Taken together, the two programs would help the county combat a number of environmental issues, Schenk said. In addition to doubling the county’s diversion rate, the programs would help lower overall carbon emissions, 9% of which come from the county landfill. It would also help the county put off the closure of its landfill, which is currently projected for 2056.

Around 7,500 communities in the nation use the pay-as-you-throw program, Schenk said. Multiple Colorado communities, including other mountain towns such as Aspen and Vail, have implemented it locally. The conservation center hopes to have the programs up and running in 2023.

“This isn’t a revolutionary concept,” Schenk said. “And I believe it’s the No. 1 most important way we can increase recycling in Summit County.”

Last year, the conservation center received a $50,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to pursue steps to implement the programs locally. The nonprofit has done public outreach, presented on the programs at local council meetings and held public forums. Now, the programs just need the approval of town and county governments.

So far, the programs have only received initial approval from the Frisco Town Council. The council unanimously approved an ordinance to implement the programs for town residents and businesses March 8. On Tuesday, March 22, the board will vote on second reading for the ordinance, which would mean final approval for the programs.

On the other side of the reservoir, the Dillon Town Council decided not to pursue an ordinance to implement the programs, citing concerns about cost, contamination rates in the county’s recycling centers and workforce shortages, Town Manager Nathan Johnson said.

The town and county governments have the ability to set the rates for the pay-as-you-throw program, so the cost to individuals may vary depending on where they live. However, the costs of adding the program should be minimal for businesses and residents using the universal recycling program, and they may see trash service costs decrease, Schenk said.

As far as contamination goes, Schenk said the program will help combat the problem by increasing education around recycling and overall doubling the amount of items that are recycled.

“I don’t anticipate that we will ever get to an incredibly low contamination rate in Summit County because of visitors, but that doesn’t mean that recycling isn’t worthwhile,” she said.

Johnson said the town is looking at other ways to improve sustainability. The council discussed adding a sustainability coordinator position that would help tackle environmental issues and educate the community. The town is also pursuing a zero waste certification for Dillon Amphitheater, which the Dillon Town Council will discuss at its April 5 meeting.

“Being a mountain town, we need to look at ways to produce more sustainability, meet more of those goals, especially as you look at things such as climate change,” Johnson said. “We are supportive of (the High Country Conservation Center). We just feel that the timing right now on pay-as-you-throw is not the best timing for the town of Dillon.”

The Summit County commissioners and the Silverthorne and Breckenridge town councils have not yet discussed the programs at regular meetings and don’t have the items on upcoming agendas.

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