Zero Waste Task Force urges Summit County to increase funding for recycling
Summit County’s Zero Waste Task Force presented an updated report on the group’s work to the Breckenridge and Frisco town councils on Tuesday. The task force’s mission is to find ways to build toward the county’s ultimate goal of reaching zero waste, pollution and emissions. This week’s presentation centered on the future financial outlook for the Summit County Resource Allocation Park landfill and recycling programs, and ways to continue to keep it financially viable.
The task force was represented by High Country Conservation Center executive director Jen Schenck and Juri Freeman with Resource Recycling Systems, an environmental consulting firm hired by HC3 and Summit County to work on a project to find solutions to the county’s recycling program, known as the “recycling solutions project.”
Freeman explained that the recycling solutions project was a multi-stage process that started evaluating the economics of the county’s current trash, recycling, composting and commercial waste programs at SCRAP. At the moment, Freeman said, SCRAP is still making more money than it is losing, but just barely.
Most of SCRAP’s current income comes from tip fees generated from residential and commercial landfill operations. The funding from the landfill operations are offsetting the losses from the recycling program, which consistently costs more than it takes in. At the moment, the county is achieving about 20 percent diversion, or recycling of waste, which is far from the zero waste goals.
“If the county does start achieving its goal in reducing waste, and landfill tons decrease, the problem that arises is how to offset the costs of the recycling programs,” Freeman said.
At the moment, SCRAP is in the black. However, that will start to change over time.
“In five or six years, the model starts to flip and and the county starts losing money at SCRAP, and those deficits will just get larger over the next 15 years.”
Freeman noted that this model relied on the idea that the county adds no new programs or revenue streams to fund the recycling program. The next stage of the project was to find ways to introduce new programs to increase revenue, as well as address resident demands when it comes to the recycling program.
Through a series of community forums and meetings, Freeman said, the task force determined that Summit’s top requests were increased food scrap collection, building new compost pads, adding a recycling center to serve Silverthorne and Dillon, and adding new services such as recycling No. 3 to No. 5 class plastics. Currently, Summit only recycles No. 1 and No. 2 transparent plastics.
However, these requests will cost money with still no real solution for how to offset them. Schenck estimated that the costs would run in the $1.5-million to $2-million range, but that is just a guess.
Freeman identified three different ways to pay for the costs when landfill fees dip: an increased property tax, increased sales or use tax or increased tip fees. None of the ideas, Freeman said, were met with much enthusiasm, but tip fees are one area that the county has complete control over. Increasing taxes would require voter approval.
Schenck said that zero waste will continue to be a mere fantasy if the government doesn’t find ways to fund the recycling programs, and if Summit residents don’t actually utilize them.
“We can’t move the needle on diversion without increased funding and without some supporting policy, education and outreach,” Schenck said. “It’s not just about building new facilities or increasing services. We have to find ways to optimize programs through policy and education.”
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