High Country recycling rules differ from Front Range (column) | SummitDaily.com

High Country recycling rules differ from Front Range (column)

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily

Dear Eartha,

I live in Denver full time, but have a second home here in Summit County. Why are the recycling guidelines here so different than the ones down in Denver?

— Matthew, Denver/Frisco

I am so glad you asked this question. We get calls at the Conservation Center every week about the recycling guidelines here in Summit County, and I am happy to have the opportunity to explain them.

Recycling is an industry, just like any other, and there are transportation costs associated with moving commodities to market. A commodity is a product that has a market value. So, if you live in a more urban area, transportation costs of getting commodities to market aren’t as high as if you are transporting from a more rural area. The commodity is also worth more if does not have to be transported long distances.

Here in the High Country, we do have the capability to sort some recyclable materials at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park’s (SCRAP) Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The materials the facility chooses to recycle are based on the market demand for a particular commodity, the transportation cost and the storage capacity available. For that reason, in Summit County we recycle glass, cardboard, paper, aluminum, types 1 and 2 plastic, tin and scrap metal. In addition, a few hard-to-recycle items are collected as well: batteries, sealed used motor oil, household hazardous waste and electronics.

One big difference you may have noticed between collection methods here and in Denver is that, in Denver, all items are collected in one bin — this is called single-stream, or commingled, recycling. While commingled collection does take place here in Summit County at the curb, the main difference is that glass is prohibited. Single-stream baling causes glass to break and the glass shards to become impacted in all the other commodities, devaluing the commodities and making it harder for glass to be recycled. Here in Summit County, glass can be recycled directly into new bottles through our bottle-to-bottle campaign. By taking your glass to any of our drop centers for free, the glass is transported to Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. in Wheatridge, where it is made into new Miller Coors bottles.

In addition to glass, plastic bags also need to be omitted from commingled recycling. In Summit, the bags pose health and safety issues for the employees of the SCRAP MRF, as they hand sort the commodities. The employees are instructed to throw the bagged recycling into the landfill to avoid risks. In other places around the country, the bags can get caught in commodity sorting machines, which can then malfunction and require repair. For that reason, putting your recyclable items in bags is never recommended, and should be avoided to ensure that your items are being recycled.

Recyclable commodities also need to have all organic matter washed out before being sent for recycling. Organic matter is another health risk for the workers who hand sort recycling, and many MRF’s instruct their employees to throw out unwashed items to avoid the risk associated with handling this waste.

While there are subtle differences in the recycling collection methods in Denver and Summit County, behind the scenes the processes are very similar. Summit County’s transportation costs are greater as we navigate the mountains and truck the items to a large city for processing. In addition, Summit County’s MRF is only capable of storing a few commodities prior to transport. Denver has access to much larger facilities than the one here, and those facilities are packed with employees and machines capable of sorting recyclables on a large scale. If you are going back and forth between areas, and are not sure what to recycle where, I encourage you to practice a “When in doubt, throw it out” philosophy to ensure that everyone else’s recycling is truly getting recycled.

Ask Eartha is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at eartha@highcountryconservation.org.


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