Summit County ballot initiative 1A will fund recycling and composting, inching toward a 40 percent diversion goal

Sorted aluminium sits in tubs at the SCRAP landfill in Dillon, Nov. 2017. 1A seeks to inject funding into the SCRAP's recycling programs, which currently run at a $500k annual deficit.
Hugh Carey /

Summit County’s ballot initiative 1A will allocate $1.7 million a year for 10 years toward recycling services in the county, or $17 million over the mill levy’s lifetime. Though often taken for granted, recycling has become a critical aspect of mountain life. 1A seeks to cover existing shortfalls as well as create new infrastructure to keep up with growing demands.

The language in the resolution putting 1A on the ballot declares that “the citizens of Summit County highly value our natural resources, including our land, air, water, climate and wildlife habitat,” and that “waste diversion is a vital strategy by which we must protect such natural resources, conserve energy and reduce our reliance on raw materials.”

Summit County has been funding recycling programs on a bit of a backwards model: relying on trash tipping fees — that is, fees from dumping trash into the landfill — to fund recycling programs.

However, if the county is serious about diverting 40 percent of its waste from the landfill to recycling by 2035 from the 23 percent currently, the tipping fees will get lower and lower, meaning less money to fund recycling. At the moment, the county’s recycling program is running at a deficit of $500,000 a year. To reach the 40 percent goal, the county will need to also pay to add more recycling drop-off points, improve processing and expand existing facilities such as the SCRAP landfill’s composting pad.

Jen Schenk, executive director of the High Country Conservation Center and member of the county’s Zero Waste Task Force, said that it’s time that the community’s recycling program gets properly funded instead of relying on an unreliable revenue stream like tipping fees.

“The system doesn’t make any sense,” Schenk said. “The Zero Waste Task Force hired a consultant, and he said the same thing — we shouldn’t be reliant on trash fees for recycling.”

Schenk also said that the task force reviewed realistic funding options, and a mill levy seemed to be the quickest, most reliable and most efficient way to address the funding shortfall for recycling.

Of the $1.7 million allocated each year by 1A, $500,000 will pay for the recycling program deficit, while $1.2 million will go toward funding recycling infrastructure.

First and foremost, Schenk said, the $1.2 million would go toward paying for a new recycling drop-off point in Silverthorne and Dillon, which lost its only major recycling point when Waste Management closed its site years ago due to lack of profitability.

Then, the compost pad at the SCRAP will be expanded to allow more diversion of waste from the landfill into usable compost.

“In terms of what we throw away in Summit, 30 percent of landfill waste is food,” Schenk said. “That makes me sad, that we’re wasting so much food when it can be easily mixed with wood chips and made into a nutrient-rich compost product.”

Schenk said the county will also expand the types of recyclables it will accept for recycling. One item that might finally be accepted for recycling are milk and juice cartons, which contain paper, plastic and sometimes metal in their construction. Separating the materials from each other takes time costs money.

Schenk also said that mattresses could start being accepted for recycling. While it might not seem like a big issue, the amount of turnover in housing and lodging in Summit County means hundreds of mattresses get tossed out with nowhere to take them.

“They can’t be compressed or compacted. It’s an operational issue,” Schenk said. “We would love to be able to properly recycle the material in mattresses.”

Finally, the county can work toward a Summit-wide glass recycling program. At the moment, single-stream recycling in the county does not accept glass, as they gum up the recycling works and pose a safety hazard to workers. However, with more funding, the county might be able to install “glass recycling” containers aside recycling bins, like the program the town of Breckenridge has implemented. Compost bins might also appear around town for people to throw away their food waste directly.

Another item that could use more funding is outreach and education.

“Thousands of people visit the community, or move in and out every year,” Schenk said. “Going out and educating these new crops of visitors and residents, year after year, that gets expensive, it gets tough.”

Ballots have already been mailed out to Summit residents on Monday. Expect to see it in your mail by the end of the week. If you have any questions about the ballot and when you will receive one, contact the county clerk and recorder’s office at 970-453-3470.

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