Opinion | Bruce Butler: It’s time to clean up Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Bruce Butler: It’s time to clean up Summit County

With the recent snowmelt, it is hard to miss the appalling amount of trash that has emerged from the snowpack. I have long valued the fact that our community still cares enough to clean up litter and trash. Therefore, I encourage all Summit County residents to participate in the formal return of Countywide Clean-Up Day on Saturday, May 21st. Whether you participate individually, as a family, as a neighborhood, as a club, or with a service organization, please put the date on your calendar. If you can’t formally participate, take a trash bag with you while you are walking the dogs and help clean up!

Much has been made of low recycling rates in Summit County and in Colorado despite the fact Summit County residents have made a strong commitment to recycling by approving dedicated taxes and other measures to increase diversion rates. I find the county’s designated recycling centers to be the best way to ensure that materials are really recycled. Even so, it amazes me that people will exert all the effort to collect recyclables, drive to a collection center, and then throw plastic bags filled with newspapers or cans or other obviously contaminated trash, like leftover-filled greasy pizza boxes, into the dumpsters. As a result, the entire load may be dumped into the landfill.

With the support of environmental advocates and even the Colorado Municipal League, which represents home rule municipalities in Colorado, the state legislature has been steadily advancing Extended Producer Responsibility legislation this session. The Producer Responsibility legislation would require companies whose brand appears on product packaging to pay into a fund administered by a state-constituted nonprofit board that would set recycling goals, establish product fees, and fund local recycling services across Colorado. I suspect the Colorado Municipal League supports the legislation because they hope to help their local government members by exporting the recycling costs underwritten by many town budgets to the new state bureaucracy.

Consider me skeptical that a new government-mandated “nonprofit” bureaucracy that can set goals, write rules, change rules, and collect fees from various businesses on an ever-evolving myriad of products and associated packaging is going to do much to improve recycling rates in Summit County or Colorado in general. However, I can see it becoming another inflationary cost-driver for consumers, as producers will simply pass along the increased cost of these burdensome mandates to consumers.

Having spent a decade in Summit County homeowner association management, including townhomes and multifamily condominiums, recycling rates will not be increased through punitive fees and mandates. The fact is most homeowner association boards of directors conceptually embrace recycling efforts, but many abandon recycling programs because it is difficult to control and accommodate on the property. When the regular trash fills up, the recycling containers become trash containers. When this happens the two remaining waste haulers in Summit County either refuse to collect the recycling or they charge fines for contaminated recycling that is then dumped in the landfill anyway.

Other common barriers to recycling include confusion about what can be recycled and how it needs to be recycled in Summit County (for example, separating glass from other single stream recycling); the lack of space available to accommodate recycling—especially in older buildings and developments, housekeeper cultural and language barriers, how housekeepers are compensated and incentivized, and the logistical inability to sort recyclables on the front end of the waste stream.

I encourage local recycling advocates to actively engage homeowner association and property managers and housekeeping contractors to address the physical and logistical recycling barriers. Work with resort master associations to increase recycling sorting and storage capacity onsite. Work with town and county planning departments to expeditiously approve site plan amendments that accommodate recycling efforts. This may mean approving reduced parking, property setbacks, and snow storage space. Explore incentives for businesses, homeowner associations, and property managers who increase their recycling rates.

We can all agree reducing the amount of waste going into the landfill and reusing as many resources as possible makes sense. Please join your friends and neighbors on Saturday, May 21 for Countywide Cleanup Day and let’s focus on ways to improve recycling rates that do not include new bureaucracies and increased consumer costs.


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