Mountain Town News: Diverting food from landfill to composting |

Mountain Town News: Diverting food from landfill to composting

ASPEN – A program called “Scraps,” which has a high-minded goal of saving money and the environment, too, got a public push in Aspen this week. It all begins in the kitchen.

Cathy Hall, who is solid-waste manager for Pitkin County, wants to divert a larger share of the 17,000 tons of organic material, much of it food, that is currently put into the Pitkin County Landfill.

As measured by weight, food represents 40 percent of landfill waste nationally, according to estimates of the Environmental Protection Agency. That squares with a 2009 study in Pitkin County. The study concluded that 30 percent of residential waste and 55 to 60 percent of restaurant waste, by weight, was from food.

This matters immensely in Aspen because the local landfill has capacity for another 20 years, but 30 if an expansion is approved. After that, it’s heave-ho to a more distant landfill, likely an hour or more away, with increased transportation costs and the pollution that come with it.

“Once this landfill is done, there won’t be another landfill in Pitkin County,” says Hall, a reference to the limited land availability.

“The food industry is the low-hanging fruit for waste diversions.”

Hall, who says that she “loves talking trash,” explains that rotting food in the oxygen-starved environment of a landfill creates methane. By one estimate, it has 23 times the ability of carbon dioxide to trap heat when measured over the course of 100 years.

Methane can be harvested, and it is at several hundred landfills around the country. At some, the methane is burned to produce electricity.

Jeremy O’Brien, director of applied research at the Solid Waste Association of North America, says the economics of methane capture have become more difficult. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have yielded a glut of low-priced natural gas for power plants, meaning utilities must be wiling to pay premium priced for electricity created by burning landfill methane, he says.

Increasingly, he says, methane is instead captured to use as fuel for powering trash and other trucks.

But even the best methane-capture projects allow 20 percent of the landfill gas to escape, says Hall. Better yet is keeping the food from becoming methane, by composting the food. Letting food rot in the oxygen-rich environment of a composting operation results only in carbon dioxide. Plus, composting produces a valuable product, rich with nutrients, that can be used for landscaping or, to make it full circle, the production of food.

Aspen has been pushing food diversion from the waste stream for several years. The city has distributed “possibly 200” plastic buckets to residents. The three-gallon buckets can be placed under sinks and six-gallon buckets in kitchen corners. Four of the eight companies hauling waste from Aspen homes and businesses offer pickup of compost for $4 to $4.50 per week per residence.

Several large-scale producers, such as Clark’s Market, the Sky Hotel, and food operations operated by the Aspen Skiing Co. have been participating in the composting program for several years. Beyond them, only 1.7 percent of all compostable materials from Aspen trash were diverted last year, says Liz O’Connell, the city’s waste reduction and environmental health specialist.

O’Connell says the city has worked with restaurants and other large-volume producers to ramp up the program. Chefs invariably support the effort. They are “very much in touch with the cycle of producing and disposing of foods,” she says.

The resistance comes from facilities manager and owners, who fret about added cost and space constraints. To ease acceptance, Pitkin County has now purchased 10 bear-proof to loan to businesses and will buy more as needed. The thinking is that that diverting waste now will save Pitkin County money in the land run.

Nationally, more cities and states have required food diversions. Most have been large cities or heavily populated states along the East and West coasts where space for landfills tends to be more limited.

In Seattle beginning in January, if food constitutes more than 10 percent of a resident’s trash, the customer may get a $1 fine attached to the monthly trash bill. The city council adopted the fines because Seattle’s recycling rate, now at 56 percent, has bogged down. The city had hoped to achieve 60 percent by 2015, reported the Seattle Times.

In New England, Massachusetts in October began requiring 1,700 institutions — grocery stores, schools, hospitals and food producers — who generate more than a ton of food waste a week to instead ship the waste to a composting facility.

NPR notes that Vermont and Connecticut have similar bans, but they only apply to facilities that produce two tons a week and are located within 20 miles of a food-waste recycling facility.

San Francisco made food diversion mandatory in 2009.

The EPA, in its Landfill Methane Outreach Program, reports that municipal sold waste landfills are responsible for 18.2 percent of human-related methane emissions in the United States.

That small-town coffee

favorite? It’s Starbucks

PARK CITY, Utah — When Vail Resorts bought Park City Mountain Resort a few months back, company representatives said they intended to honor Park City’s authenticity and small-town atmosphere.

When it comes to coffee, however, it’s big business. The company has informed a local coffee vendor that had been delivering the daily perc to the ski hill operations for several years that his 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of beans won’t be needed. Instead, Vail will do business with its official partner, Starbucks.

“I’m kind of bummed out. I know business is business,” coffee vendor Robert Hibl told The Park Record.

The newspaper, in an editorial, declared that Park City’s toughest challenge during the next few years will be to balance two realities. Beginning next year, when Park City Mountain Resort and the Canyons are linked with a chairlift, it will boast of being home to “biggest ski area in the country.” Yet, can it maintain the small-town character?

That is not an entirely a new challenge for Park City. It has gone from being a mining town to a ski town, and then, when it hosted the Olympics, from being a mid-sized mountain resort to joining the big leagues with Aspen, Breckenridge, and Vail, but also Whistler and Jackson Hole.

Along the way, locals have pushed back at corporate branding efforts. A pizza chain was refused a red roof. A burger joint had to tame its golden arches. And, notes The Record, a local activist tried to block construction of a big-box retailer by chaining himself to a bulldozer.

The Record, itself part of a corporate chain that includes the Salt Lake Tribune and Denver Post, said it understands Vail’s interests in striking marketing partnerships and achieving economies of scale.

“We understand,” added the paper. “But for those of us who want to ensure that our mountain town has its own flavor, one cup of coffee for all is a real concern.”

Nice Olympic venues,

but do subsidies end?

WHISTLER, B.C. — Whistler has tons of things that most ski towns don’t have by virtue of having hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The challenge is how to curb or even end the subsidies for venues such as the bobsled, luge, and skeleton tracks.

Occupancy at the Whistler Athletes’ Centre, which hosted athletes and still seeks to cater to high-performance and development groups is at 37 percent. Roger Sloane, chief executive of Whistler Sport Legacies, tells Pique that he would like to boost that to 65 percent.

A shaky start to last winter dented revenues for the Whistler Olympic Park, which brought in $1.3 million this year and cost $2.3 million to run. The Sliding Centre cost $2.4 million to operate and brought in $1.1 million in revenues.

These losses were expected, says Sloane, and were anticipated by British Columbia’s creation of a $110 million trust fund. The trust fund this year gave the local operating group $1.3 million. He says the local group hopes to augment income by renting facilities more frequently to groups such as the Tough Mudder, or to corporations for meetings.

Mashed spuds on

Wolf Creek Pass

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. — When a truck carrying groceries overturns on Wolf Creek Pass, what do you call the load?

Mashed, in the case of a truck that was ferrying 132,000 potatoes down the steep, west side of the pass. T

he Pagosa Sun explains that the driver overheated the brakes, which became useless. The truck rolled at 70 mph.

Salt Lake drops USA

from its ski boasting

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Steamboat Springs and Salt Lake City are linked by U.S. Highway 40, but they are very different places.

Steamboat for decades has called itself Ski Town USA. Several months ago, a promotional group in Utah began promoting Salt Lake as “Ski City USA.” In September, it announced the tagline: “Once you’ve stayed in Ski City, you’ll never stay in a ski town.”

You can guess how the Steamboat folks reacted. Lawyers were enlisted, and the Salt Lake group has retreated. The Steamboat Pilot reports that the website for Visit Salt Lake now boasts of “Ski City” but has removed any reference to USA.

Rent a bike, skis, and

why not a vaporizer?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — In Steamboat Springs, you can rent skis and bikes. Why not vaporizers?

That’s the thinking of a new entrepreneur who has launched a business called Steamboat420. Drew Koehler tells the Steamboat Pilot that vaporizers are healthier to use than smoking marijuana, because users are not ingesting the chemicals they would by using rolling papers. Too, they produce less odor.

Will Main Street pot

scare mom and pop?

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — An argument is underway in Breckenridge, to be resolved by voters in early December. At issue is whether the stores that sell marijuana will be allowed on Main Street, the town’s main shopping and nightlife district.

Main Street has had one marijuana store since 2009, called the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, but other marijuana dispensaries are located in an outlying, service-oriented area that few visitors see. The issue was too hot for the town council to decide itself.

The local lodging association opposes marijuana stores on Main Street, at least for now, until impacts to the Breckenridge “brand” are understood, according to a letter published in the Summit Daily News.

Three former mayors, with a combined tenure of 16 years, also posted a public letter warning of “big risk, little upside. The town should watch marijuana evolve in Colorado and the nation carefully while continuing to encourage retail and medical marijuana sales (in the service area),” said the letter signed by Chuck Struve, Sam Mamula, and Ernie Blake.

“When marijuana goes mainstream,” they added, “our Main Street may then be ready. But not now, not yet.”

The staff and owners of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club are having none of these arguments. In their letter, they point to hypocrisy by those – including the mayors and lodging proprietors – who condone alcohol sales at bars and restaurants but sniff at cannabis sales.

“Being one of the first communities in the world to take on the historic task of ending marijuana prohibition is scary,” the letter declared. “But scary is interesting and it is that pioneering spirit that enchants visitors and created the history we have.”

In the November election, Oregon, Washington D.C,. and Alaska also legalized recreational marijuana sales, joining Colorado and Washington.

Wal-Mart and Macy’s

and Tesla at Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Electric charging stations are being installed in the Lake Tahoe Basin, and that probably shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s the closest major mountain resort to the Silicon Valley, home to Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors.

The Sierra Sun reports that a local real estate firm, Oliver Luxury Real Estate, installed two stations suitable for Tesla cars.

“With San Francisco and the larger Silicon Valley region representing a large population of Tesla owners, Tesla’s presence is rapidly growing in Tahoe,” Darin Vicknair, a broker associate, said. “In order to accommodate clientele, we wanted to join in the act of ‘electrifying’ Lake Tahoe.”

Squaw Valley installed four charging ports last September, the first ski resort in California to do so.

Another discussion is also underway in the Tahoe Basin. The fundamental question is whether the current bus system is up to snuff. A consultant, Gordon Shaw, principal of LSC Transportation Consultants, described the existing service in unflattering terms of a “Wal-Mart of public transportation.” He urged a version of a Macy’s.

The existing system costs $4.1 million, but upgrades of $2.9 million are urged by

Sandy Evans-Hall, chief executive of the North Lake Tahoe Chamber/CVB/Resort Association. That additional money would double bus service, eliminate fares, and create year-round service to outlying areas. Increased sales taxes are recommended.

At the meeting, according to the Sierra Sun, Park City was cited as a model of Tahoe upgrades. But Evans-Hall, who spent many years in Steamboat Springs, might also point to Colorado’s major destination resort areas for even more ambitious bus programs.

Bigger and better in

downtown Jackson?

JACKSON, Wyo. – It’s the recurring conversation in Jackson Hole. Should the downtown area of the valley’s lone town, Jackson, have somewhat bigger, taller buildings, with more space for condos?

That argument has been going on for well more than a decade, and it’s likely to be regarded again as the public is asked to respond to proposed rezoning of the town’s commercial core.

The plan says that the “future goal is to create a vibrant pedestrian-oriented mixed-use district with a variety of non-residential and residential uses.”

That’s not very different from plans in the past, and the common pushback has been that it would be a sell-out to high-end real estate interests.

More news from resort valleys of the West can be found at

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