Summit County to budget more than $2.2 million for recycling initiatives in 2024

County goal of 40% landfill diversion by 2035 may become more aggressive following release of new federal guidelines

The county continues to maintain a goal of 40% landfill diversion by 2035.
High Country Conservation Center/Courtesy photo

Seeking to meet their waste diversion goal, Summit County officials are poised to boost funding for recycling initiatives in next year’s county budget. 

Officials are preparing to spend just over $2.24 million on diversion efforts in 2024, a more than $158,000 increase from the county’s 2023 projected budget. The money will come from the county’s Strong Future Fund, which was approved by voters in 2018 to serve as a dedicated revenue source for early childhood care, behavioral health, fire mitigation, recycling and public infrastructure.

The county is aiming to divert 40% of all waste from its landfill by 2035, a goal that may need to be strengthened, said High Country Conservation Center Executive Director Jen Schenk. 

“Recently, the EPA set a goal nationally to get to 50% diversion by 2030,” Schenk said during a Sept. 19 presentation to the Summit Board of County Commissioners. “I do think we need to revisit this goal as a community and perhaps make it more aggressive.” 

Schenk said any decision on increasing the diversion goal will likely come from the county’s Zero Waste Task Force, which helps craft local recycling policy. Currently, the county has a diversion rate of 22%.

The implementation of a pay-as-you-throw program in unincorporated parts of the county could help accelerate the county’s diversion timeline, Schenk said. The program’s volume-based pricing mechanisms makes discarding larger amounts of trash more expensive in a bid to incentivize more recycling. 

Such programs currently exist in the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco, and county officials are drafting their own pay-as-you-throw ordinance to bring before commissioners possibly within weeks. 

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Other initiatives include targeting waste produced through construction and demolition for diversion. 

“There’s a lot of construction and building and demolition happening in the county, so our focus is to really go after these materials that are going to the landfill,” said Aaron Byrne, the county’s solid waste director. 

That could mean repurposing or reselling certain materials, Byrne said, an effort he called “low-hanging fruit” for the county’s diversion goal. 

Infrastructure will continue to be a key tool for meeting diversion targets, Byrne added. A new county facility designed to divert single-stream recyclables may be operational by mid-October, which Byrne called a “huge component of what we need as other programs come into place.” 

Current diversion programs are continuing to see success, said Rachel Zerowin, the conservation center’s community programs director. 

An effort to compost food scraps has seen a 66% increase in participation as of August compared to last year, with nearly 200,000 pounds of food being diverted from trash and over 3,000 households enrolled, Zerowin said. 

And 61 businesses and homeowners associations have adopted universal recycling this year, ensuring patrons and residents have access to recycling options, Zerowin said. 

“Now is the time when we really need to keep seeing some of these things through to the end,” Zerowin said. 

While it means operating expenses for the county will go up, that’s because “we’re seeing the increase in participation,” Byrne said. 

The budget increase also accounts for funds to hire a consultant to explore creating an ordinance targeting construction and demolition diversion as well as boosting marketing and outreach efforts, with a particular emphasis on multilingual materials. 

“That is so important right now, the continuation of education,” Byrne said.

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