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Summit County commissioners approve sustainable investment policy, discuss recycling efforts

Silverthorne’s recycling center off River Drive is pictured March 10. As with any operation this year, Summit County’s landfill and recycling department has seen a drop in revenue.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com

KEYSTONE — As social and environmental issues make the forefront of national media, Summit County commissioners are looking at new ways to show their support. 

At a regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 27, the commissioners unanimously approved changes to the county’s investment policy, which will have the county shift its investment strategy to environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investing. 

The new policy will make it so the county can no longer invest in energy services, oil and gas producers and refiners, and pipeliners. 

“It aligns with our goals,” Treasurer Ryne Scholl said about the new policy at a Tuesday work session. “Specifically, not only in sustainability but with social and governance issues, that seem to be going across our TV screens every day. Our community has demonstrated a desire to speak out against that, too.”

In addition to having a more sustainable and socially conscious investing approach, the new policy minimizes any potential risk to the county by prohibiting investment with issuers that have an environmental, social and governance risk rating of higher than 30. 

The risk rating determines how likely a company is to experience losses that could then be a detriment to the county’s finances. 

“These are risks, quite frankly, that if they’re not managed effectively, they could expose that organization to some sort of detrimental impact on their performance and the value of their financial future,” said David Reeser, a managing director with PFM, the county’s investment adviser.

PFM will cost the county about $3,000 a month in advising fees, according to the treasurer’s resolution for the county commissioners meeting. 

Landfill and recycling updates

At Tuesday’s work session, commissioners also discussed recent challenges to the county’s recycling and landfill programs, in anticipation of the 2021 budget approval process. 

As with many programs in 2020, the county’s trash revenue stream dried up with the novel coronavirus pandemic. Usually, the county charges fees for trash by the ton. With construction projects slowing down in March, the county lost anticipated revenue from those fees. 

“I think we’re still able to operate within our means, we’re able to operate a balanced budget, but it’s not as rosy a revenue picture as we’ve seen in the past couple of years,” Public Works Director Tom Gosiorowski said. “The positive to that is it does mean we have less trash coming in; we’re not filling up our landfill that quickly.”

The biggest update for landfill and recycling in the proposed 2021 budget is a $940,000 allocation through the solid waste fund to allow for an upgrade to the county’s Material Recovery Facilities — the building used to sort recyclable materials. 

Included in that upgrade would be the replacement of the county’s baler, or trash compactor, and conveyor belts used to move recyclables around. 

The county is also facing a loss in revenue when it comes to recycling. When people recycle materials, those materials are eventually sold on the market, providing more revenue to the county. 

Lately, market prices for certain plastics, specifically plastics that are numbered three through five, is down. So the recycling program has not been as economically viable, Gosiorowski said.

“We’re on the verge of actually being charged for those materials as if they were trash,” he said. 

Gosiorowski said the voter-approved Strong Future funding, which allocates $1.9 million to offset recycling fees, is allowing the program to continue without many cuts.

The county’s landfill and recycling department has been working with restaurants and business owners to offer more education on what plastics are best for recycling. Gosiorowski said the department will work to get more information and education out to the entire community. 

“It would be great with all of these issues to get the message out to our community: Don’t buy plastics,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said.


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