Summit County considers slashing recycling over landfill cutbacks |

Summit County considers slashing recycling over landfill cutbacks

Kevin Fixler
Summit County provides free drop-off recycling sites in Breckenridge and this location in Frisco in the County Commons. A recent decision by local trash hauler Timberline Disposal now stands to impact those operations.
Kevin Fixler / |

In June, local solid waste hauler Timberline Disposal, LLC, made the choice to consolidate operations and take local trash and recycling to another facility in Silver Plume instead of the county’s landfill north of Keystone. The Summit County Resource Allocation Park, also known as SCRAP, also houses the area recycling center.

The decision took a considerable bite out of the county government’s solid waste account. What was projected to be about $3.2 million in funds for 2016 to pay for staff, equipment, the countywide recycling program and general operations at SCRAP came in $500,000 light by year’s end and now the county is trying to deal with a significant shortfall as it looks to finalize a budget for next year.

If Timberline continues the practice in the upcoming year, the county anticipates bringing in just $2.15 million toward SCRAP expenses, so major reductions would be required to avoid running into the red. As a result, the proposed 2017 budget presently slashes the landfill’s capital expenditures entirely. This means no money next year to fix existing heavy machinery needed to run the facility smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Deferred maintenance and replacement on a routine schedule could ultimately mean simply kicking the can down the road toward inflated costs.

“That’s what we had to do to balance the budget,” said county finance director Marty Ferris, “but it’s not ideal, obviously. It’s not good.”

The cut that will perhaps be felt most by the public, however, is the scheduled closure of the two recycling drop-off centers in Breckenridge and Frisco, effective Jan. 1 unless the Board of County Commissioners comes up with another option before that time.

The county also plans not to hire for two open positions within recycling and will not hire for a third if the current employee leaves, though there are no plans to lay off the individual. And the annual $90,000 in funds allocated to the High Country Conservation Center (HC3) toward their conservation work and educational programming will also be suspended entirely. Even all that still won’t get the county’s head above water for landfill overhead moving forward.

“If we do nothing, in 2018 we will have to find another $700,000-plus in additional cuts within the operation,” said county manager Scott Vargo. “We cannot do that, so we have to come up with some other alternatives associated with how we operate the landfill and how we manage the recycling programs.”

To recoup those dollars, the county is primarily considering re-establishing a trash flow-control ordinance already on the books from 1980. The directive would require that haulers deliver local trash and recycling to only the nearby landfill so the value of those disposable products is realized fully in Summit County. Those proceeds would then go back into the county budget to offset the costs associated with offering free recycling to the community at-large.

“It’s critical to communities to have a safe place to dispose of waste,” said assistant county manager Thad Noll, “and this puts that at risk. A third of the revenue disappeared, and I’m not aware of too many operations that can function like that.”

If companies are forced to honor flow-control, the county would not be required to make the budgetary rollbacks in place at the moment for 2017. Conversations with the area municipalities and haulers to try and gather support for executing the plan have already taken place. For now, the idea does not have full endorsement, and a meeting between the county and Timberline is planned for next week.

Due to their low value on the commodities market, recyclables actually end up costing the county money to process. The landfill’s model and county budget have accounted for that over the years through a trash-gathering business model, but the framework doesn’t work if not enough collection occurs each year. Despite clear environmental benefits, covering operational costs for the Breckenridge and Frisco drop-off sites could also be prohibitive.

The reduced market for recyclables also led Waste Management to close its drop-off site in Silverthorne on Monday, with the exception of sorted glass bottles. That’s created concern for the town of Dillon, which operates a small recycling center in the parking lot of its town hall, that the location could be overwhelmed by those who can’t deliver their bottles, cans and newspapers to Breckenridge, Frisco or Silverthorne. The SCRAP continues to accept recycling, but it can be inconvenient for many residents around Summit. That, county staff theorizes, would result in a dramatic plunge of recycling volumes.

“It’s likely a lot of that material that we’ve worked hard to educate the community on to separate to get the highest value for that commodity,” said Aaron Byrne, SCRAP solid waste director, “most likely everything would go to single stream, or to the landfill and we dispose of it.”

Aside from offering this bare-bones approach to recycling in the community, more waste items in the landfill would also mean the pace at which the dump reaches capacity gets expedited. With the need to have a 2017 budget approved by the end of December, the county is racing to find a solution as soon as possible. The earliest the towns might adopt the flow-control plan, meanwhile, is early January, which would then necessitate a budget amendment to counteract cuts by the county that are at this stage essential. Unaffected either way is the annual hazardous waste collection that rids homes of harmful materials like electronics, paint and pharmaceutical drugs.

“The infrastructure that we have in place has taken years to build, not only with the diversion programs, but our model for our SCRAP facility,” said Byrne. “With this funding reduced — the revenue and tonnage — we really have a broken model. We were on track, and we’re doing a good job. Now it’s just being yanked out from underneath us, so we need to find a way to continue to get back on track.”

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