The Aspen City Council says it would like to be as aggressive as possible in creating a comprehensive plan for diverting waste from the landfill and incentivizing the community to generate less trash.
Senior environmental health specialist for the city, Liz Chapman, presented elected officials with three scenarios last week that balanced spending and timelines in achieving the council’s goal of waste reduction. A status quo scenario would mean the city makes no further investments than what it already spends on waste management. Current predictions are that without adjustments, the local landfill will be out of capacity in three to 10 years.
A middle of the road scenario was presented, “Scenario B,” that would include hiring dedicated staff members and concentrating on the number one sector attributed to landfill accumulation — construction waste.
A third scenario would cost the city upwards of $250,000 per year, including a fully staffed department with funds for subsidizing commercial and private waste diversion programs.
“Scenario C would be, we want to aim for a net-zero community as fast as we can get there, and we are going to spend a whole bunch of money in order to do it,” Chapman explained to the council.
While the council has listed waste management as a top priority, they stopped shy of giving the greenlight to the full-blown build-out of the most aggressive scenario. Collectively, they pushed for somewhere between the middle ground and top-producing scenarios.
“I would be willing to start with $100,000 and see what can we get done with that,” said councilmember Rachel Richards.
Councilmember Ann Mullins pointed out that if the goal was to build programming that would help extend the life of the landfill, there would be costs involved.
“[Scenario] C is the only one that gets us to zero the same year the landfill closes,” Mullins said.
The council’s counterparts on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners have passed measures aimed at incentivizing recycling and reuse for construction materials. That programming, which includes requiring waste-hauling businesses to provide recycling services, only applies to residences and construction sites within the county that don’t fall within the city limits.
Scenario C would include the city adopting similar policies to the ones the county has enacted. It could also mean subsidizing restaurant efforts to reduce waste, such as composting programs, providing bear-proof receptacles and a reusable take out container program.
In creating a comprehensive waste management program, the city might also use punitive measures as well as incentives. A 2015 study showed in that year, two-thirds of the trash brought to the landfill was from construction and demolition waste. Councilmember Ward Hauenstein suggested fees specific to the industry that is responsible for the majority of the landfill’s capacity issues.
“If you are filling up the landfill with construction waste and demolishing, perhaps you should pay for it,” he said.
Chapman pointed out that the projections showing the life of the landfill don’t account for the recent population spike locally, as second homeowners took root in the area due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their added everyday waste, as well as the addition of demolition materials as they rush to remodel their homes in record numbers, were not taken into consideration during timeline projection studies conducted in the past.
“These numbers do not factor in population growth and they assume programs that don’t exist yet,” she said.
She also told the council that unlike other communities that may benefit from a public-private warehouse that could give construction materials a new life, the local market is not in the mood for second-hand materials.
“The concept of taking someone else’s used building materials and using it in a new construction project, the audience for that is limited,” Chapman said.
In order to fund the staffing and programming needed to implement new policies and public outreach campaigns, the environmental health department would likely need to create a revenue stream. Chapman is scheduled to appear back in front of council in the spring with options for that income.
For now, council has given direction that they would be amenable to a supplemental budget for one additional staff person to assist in the work of building a long-term plan to reduce solid waste and divert compostable and recycling materials from the Pitkin County Landfill.