Ask Eartha: What should I know about pay-as-you-throw programs in Summit County?
Dear Eartha, I’m a Breckenridge resident, and I missed the pay-as-you-throw forums earlier this month. It sounds like I will pay less if I choose the smallest trash bin. Is that correct? Any tips to help me get there? I’ve got a family of four and I’m not sure if a smaller bin is realistic.
You are correct: In a pay-as-you-throw program, the smallest trash bin comes at the lowest cost and the service includes curbside recycling. Those are the basics in Breckenridge and Frisco — the local towns that adopted pay-as-you-throw programs — and in thousands of communities across the nation. In fact, pay-as-you-throw is one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s top recommendations for reducing waste. And, according to the 2022 report, State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado, the communities with the highest recycling rates all have pay-as-you-throw in place.
Quite possibly the best part? The programs adopted in Breckenridge and Frisco will help all residents — businesses, visitors, and homeowner associations — have access to convenient recycling. Before we talk about downsizing your trash, let’s cover the basics.
A “pay-as-you-throw” primer
To support community-wide waste reduction goals, the towns of Breckenridge and Frisco both adopted pay-as-you-throw in 2022. The program has two parts: pay-as-you-throw, which applies to residents who wheel a trash bin to the end of their driveway, and universal recycling, which applies to businesses and multifamily properties that share a trash dumpster.
The residents who fall under pay-as-you-throw will be able to choose from a small, medium or large trash bin, and they’ll get a recycling bin along with it. The small trash bin costs the least, with the medium and large trash bins each jumping in price. Some haulers — the folks who pick up our trash and recycling — are already asking customers to choose their preferred bin, while others will work with customers this summer. Virtually all residents will have their new bins by October.
As for universal recycling, any business or multifamily property with trash service will also have to add recycling service. Everyone will have access by June 2025. Towns recognize that adding recycling may take time for some businesses and homeowners associations. That’s why they’re offering grants to help. More info, along with details on free coaching and site visits, is available at HighCountryConservation.org.
Keep in mind that recycling collected under these new programs is single-stream, which means paper and cardboard, tin and aluminum cans, and plastic bottles, jugs and tubs are all mixed together in one bin. Glass is not accepted in single-stream.
Downsizing by composting
Let’s get back to your question: How can a family of four (or one or 12) downsize their trash? The easiest answer is the free food scrap recycling program. Once you enroll, you collect food waste at home and drop it off at one of seven locations across the county. Participants often share their surprise at how little trash they create once they’re recycling food waste. Those scraps head to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP), where they’re composted into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Each spring, food scrap participants can enjoy the results of their efforts by getting free compost.
Glass stations galore
Glass is not accepted in single-stream recycling. Instead, it’s collected separately and transported to the Rocky Mountain Bottling Company in Wheat Ridge where it’s turned into beer bottles for MillerCoors. That process can happen infinitely! So bring bottles and jars to one of the county’s 14 glass recycling locations and shrink your trash production even more.
Mind your cartons
I’m a nut for oat milk, not to mention the creamy tomato soup that comes in a box. Shelf-stable cartons like those, as well as refrigerated cartons, can all be recycled at the three recycling drop-off centers.
There are a lot of recycling locations across the county, so check out HighCountryConservation.org for a detailed map and guidelines. If you’re still not clear on pay-as-you-throw, register for the virtual forum on May 11. Join me in reducing your trash, opting for the smallest bin, and only paying for what you throw away.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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