Aspen City Council will have to address a bit of sticker shock in their meeting this evening. The cost of maintaining the status quo single-stream recycling at the Rio Grande Recycle Center is four to five times higher than anticipated earlier this summer.
At the end of this month, Pitkin County’s $250,000 annual contribution to the center will end, and the city put out a request for proposals for an independent hauler to sort the collections and bring them to a holding site on the Front Range. The two firms offering bids proposed services for a single year that ranged from $556,000 to $747,800. With some unknowns in rising costs of fuel or dropping value of materials to be recycled, the total for one year could rise above the $1 million mark.
“That’s far away from what we were expecting it to be,” said Liz Chapman, senior environmental health specialist for the city.
In June, council gave direction for the city to keep up the current services for one year while a larger evaluation of the recycle center and Aspen’s waste management plan are underway. With the new understanding of the budgetary impacts of keeping the status quo, staff will instead recommend to council this evening that the recycle center cease collecting single stream items beginning next month.
“We were expecting it to increase, but that is such a dramatic increase that staff feels that the most fiscally responsible thing to do is to move immediately into target collections,” said Chapman.
If the city switches to targeted collections next month, there would be separate bins for specific materials. To start, the city would have a bin for cardboard, glass, metal, and yard waste.
For two months this spring the city led public outreach efforts to get a sense of what the community wanted from the recycle center. Of those surveyed, 52 percent said they wanted the recycle center to remain single-stream collection, allowing users to dump all recyclable materials together into a single bin.
“It will be virtually impossible to replace this valuable resource if it is lost,” wrote one responder. “Although recycling may not be, on the surface, as exciting as other expenditures, it is absolutely of deep and essential value to our city and county, and to our planet.”
The county chose to back out of funding the recycle center after passing an ordinance that all waste haulers have to offer recycling as well. The city already had this rule in place, but Chapman said for a number of reasons, curbside recycling is not especially effective.
“We only divert 20 percent of our materials coming out of homes and businesses via recycling,” she said. “So although people are in theory paying for recycling they are not putting their recycling on the curb.”
Chapman said an increase in curbside participation from 20 percent diversions to 50 percent would outperform the entire recycle center.
“It’s ambitious, but it’s not a ridiculous goal,” she said. “If we could get to that we would be diverting as much single stream as we are currently diverting at the Rio.”
The only recyclable material that is actually processed within Colorado is glass. All other materials get shipped out of state or abroad. Chapman said in the United States, which has done little to encourage the recycled commodities market, landfills become the more economically viable option.
“Taking something to a hole and burying it is super cheap. Taking it someplace to a factory, messing with it, and turning it into a new product is expensive,” Chapman said.
In Europe, dumping fees have been imposed to balance the cost between dumping trash and recycling it. Over the next year, the city will be evaluating myriad options for incentives and regulations addressing Aspen’s waste management. This may mean charging a fee at the recycling center, which is now free for public use.
Exploring targeted collections might allow for the city and county to partner again, however. The work session memo states that though the county backed out of funding single stream, supplementing curbside options is appealing to them.
“Pitkin County staff have indicated they would be partners in a Targeted Materials collection effort by participating in the collection of organic materials, textiles, books, and batteries,” the memo states.
In tonight’s meeting the council will decide what direction the recycle center should go for a one-year, short-term contract as the September deadline looms. Chapman said the bigger efforts for community engagement will continue regardless.
“Either way we need to make a concerted effort to educate the public so that we get more people diverting at the curbside,” she said.