Constructing a small wastewater treatment facility, partnering with other governments and simply encouraging residents to cut down on their garbage output are among the ideas Pitkin County officials may explore to keep a money-losing recycling program afloat.
County commissioners on Tuesday were briefed on the local landfill’s various recycling programs, including its co-mingling effort that collects plastic, glass, aluminum and steel.
That program in 2012 saw losses of around $350,000, solid waste manager Cathy Hall said.
What little revenue that had been generated from co-mingling has fallen even more since the recession, said County Manager Jon Peacock.
Garbage haulers like Waste Management no longer take recyclables to the county landfill, which has charged since 2010 a $25-per-ton tipping fee, and instead take the material directly to recovery facilities. The companies can realize a better profit at such sites.
Tipping fees collected at the solid waste center from construction waste once helped close the gap between costs and revenues for the co-mingle program, Peacock said.
But as construction dried up amid the recession, so did the fees, he said.
“It’s just time to take a fresh look at the programs,” said county public works director Brian Pettet.
For instance, building a small wastewater treatment facility with the capacity to handle 1.5 million to 2 million gallons from county septic systems annually could help buffer the landfill’s bottom line, he said.
With the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District not accepting waste from septic systems, residents are forced to pay for it to be hauled downvalley and as far away as Rifle, Hall said last week. Building wastewater infrastructure would save residents money and add to the landfill’s coffers, she said.
Pettet said the most important cost-saving measure may involve the county’s contract with landfill operator Heartland Environmental Services. The contract expires in 2014, and landfill staff could request new proposals for the service, or accept some or all of those duties in-house, a staff memo says.
Commissioner Rob Ittner said an initial step in fixing, or at least lessening, the co-mingle cost issue should be defining what constitutes a successful landfill.
Historically, success has been defined by measures that have extended the landfill’s life, Pettet said. The facility currently has a 60 percent diversion rate, meaning that only 40 percent of material collected ends up in the landfill.
Getting people to reduce their use of the facility over the long term also would be helpful, Ittner said.
The longevity of the site “has a big cost to it, too, because there is a ticking time bomb at the end when the landfill can no longer be used,” he said. The landfill has an expected life of 15 more years.
Landfill staff, among other duties, service the county recycling drop-off site in Basalt and also collect recycling twice a month from Redstone. But many people utilizing the Basalt site are Eagle County residents who are not paying for the service, Commissioner George Newman said.
He suggested reaching out to Eagle and Gunnison counties, the latter of which is close to Redstone, to see if they can assist with the cost of those services.
“The status quo is not acceptable,” he said of the landfill’s annual loss on its co-mingle program.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said she needed more information on industry trends and what haulers are doing now before she can give definitive direction.
She called for a decision-making matrix that considers the county’s authority to possibly implement more stringent requirements for haulers or a bottle-deposit program, and how such steps would affect the landfill’s waste flow and revenue.
Richards also suggested discussions with the management of hauling firms to suss out their long-range plans.
Peacock said it could take several work sessions to decide what course to take because of all the various options.