Recycle company celebrates 30 years
BOULDER – Four drivers waited for the person in front of them to stuff bags full of plastic bags into a recycling bin. Boulder resident George Dent waited behind the cars on his bicycle. He held a pair of sneakers and a rusty cooking tray.On a recent day when the winds swept through Boulder, tree limbs fell into the ditch near his apartment, so he put on boots to clear out the debris.”When I found this tray in the water, I wanted to recycle it before it ended up in a landfill,” Dent said.Landfills cost taxpayers up to a million dollars per acre to build, but they also have an environmental and health price tag.Nobody loves a landfill but the landfill owner, says Eric Lombardi, executive director of Eco-Cycle, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit recyclers in the United States.The operating budget for the organization is now $4 million. With the help of the Boulder County Recycling Center, Eco-Cycle has increased its collections to nearly 50,000 tons of material per year – enough trash to fill the four blocks of the Pearl Street Mall pedestrian walkway to the height of a seven-story hotel.But the average Colorado resident throws out more than 6 pounds of trash per day, when potentially 5.4 pounds of the waste can be recycled, according to Eco-Cycle.The county’s processing facility has given Eco-Cycle the room to expand its old recycling facility to recycle “nontraditional” materials, and is now called the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials. The center just announced a new material – big durable No. 2 plastics – such as laundry baskets, lawn chairs and plastic toys. Other materials that are recycled at the center include computers, cell phones and books.”We don’t have a waste problem. What we have is a resource opportunity,” Lombardi said.Recycling just paper and aluminum cans is a thing of the past. The more profitable materials such as white paper, cardboard and aluminum help pay for the costs of recycling the hard-to-recycle materials. All those plastic bags go into plastic lumber for decks and piers, for example.Eco-Cycle made Boulder County one of the first communities in the nation to start curbside recycling programs. And it is now gaining an international reputation for more than just recycling.”In the last five years, we’ve been discovered by the world because of the Internet,” Lombardi said.Recycling was not always so trendy. In 1976, Pete Grogan, co-founder of Eco-Cycle with Roy Young, established a curbside recycling program.Young now operates Nature’s Own, a small chain of retail shops that sell nature- and science-related products.After 30 years in the recycling business, Grogan was named 2006 Recycler of the Year by the National Recycling Coalition. He is now recycling market development manager at Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest paper recyclers.”I hope to engage the entire population in recycling to reduce the impact on resources and energy usage. I feel that we have an obligation to leave resources for future generations,” Grogan said.While Grogan was a student at the University of Colorado, he had volunteered for Attention Homes, a local nonprofit helping abused and neglected youth. He wanted to raise money for the kids to participate in sports, and so he organized curbside recycling.Less than 1 percent of the population received curbside services 30 years ago; the percentage of waste recycled is up to 48 percent today for Boulder residences and up to 25 percent for the commercial sector. Overall, Boulder County’s total recycling rate is estimated to be 30 percent, which is on par with the national average.But Colorado ranks 39th in the nation for recycling, with a recycling rate of just 12.5 percent.As early as next summer, Eco-Cycle will start a single-stream recycling system, where people can combine their recyclable paper with commingled containers, said Marti Matsch, communications director at Eco-Cycle. Looking ahead, Eco-Cycle aims to serve as a global model for zero-waste systems. Producing products that can either be recycled, reused or composted in their entirety means addressing product design and encouraging industries to develop products that are less toxic and easier to recycle”You’ll probably never get to zero waste, but you’ll have the policy, target and direction to get to zero,” Lombardi said.Since 2004, Eco-Cycle has offered businesses what it calls Zero Waste Services. Businesses including hotels and restaurants are taking part. It involves recycling organic waste and hard-to-recycle materials.Scott Roy, president of Boulder Ice Cream, said the company has recycled since 1997 and now recycles or composts paper towels, milk cartons and ice-cream spills through the program.Joining the Eco-Cycle’s Zero Waste Services was a natural extension of the eco-friendly vision of the Broomfield-based WhiteWave, said Ellen Feeney, director of responsible livelihood at WhiteWave Foods.Converting to the Zero Waste system has brought the Boulder Outlook Hotel and Suites more business, said Dan King, the hotel’s co-owner. He said zero waste fits the culture of the company and reflects Boulder values.”I have been trying to convince other hotels to go zero waste. We have identified $120,000 in direct revenue that has come to the hotel because we decided to move towards zero waste,” King said.Each guest room has four containers: landfill, mixed paper, commingled containers and paper products, and bio-bags for composting materials. If a guest chooses to put everything into one container, the staff will hand-sort the material before it leaves the building, King said.”We have people from all over the world stay here, and they leave here having learned about recycling,” King said.
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