Aspen’s Rio Grande Recycling Center is no longer collecting single-stream recycling, instead moving to a targeted collection system. Glass, household metals, yard waste and cardboard will be collected, but paper and plastic will not be, though haulers will still recycle them with curbside pickups.

Paper and plastic are no longer being accepted at the city’s recycling center next to Rio Grande Park, due to skyrocketing costs of single-stream recycling. 

The recycle center as of Aug. 31 is now operating as a targeted collections facility, which could save as much as $750,000 annually. Instead of more than a dozen single-stream recycling bins that were there before, there are now a smaller number of bins that each hold a specific kind of recyclable material. The materials now being collected at the facility are yard waste (grass and leaves), household metals (aluminum and tin cans and scrap metal items from the home), glass bottles and corrugated cardboard. The current collection of household batteries and textiles (clothing and shoes) will be unaffected by this change.

Changes at the recycle center have been a long time coming, since Pitkin County announced it was no longer willing to foot the bill to haul away materials at the facility. That bill was projected to rise to around $350,000, thanks to a weak market for recyclable materials. Aspen City Council initially directed the city to pay for single stream recycling for another year, but when bids for that service came in higher than expected — potentially costing up to $1 million per year — elected officials decided to accelerate a plan to switch the facility to the cheaper targeted materials collection. 

According to an informational memo to the city council from environmental health specialist Liz Chapman, the annual cost of hauling the targeted materials from the facility will be between $100,000 and $200,000. The city is also budgeting $25,000 for labor and enforcement, $25,000 to $100,000 for the one-time purchase of new equipment and $100,000 to $150,000 for a one-time educational campaign. That campaign will highlight for the public recycling and waste reduction options at home, at work and at the recycle center. Trash haulers in Aspen and, since January, Pitkin County, are required to pick up recycling as part of curbside service, and single-stream materials can still be recycled that way (they can also be dropped off at the Pitkin County landfill). The city and the county are also hoping to ramp up community-wide composting, since as much as 40 percent of what is buried at the landfill, excluding construction waste, could be composted.

Paper and plastic have become problematic in the recycling world, according to Chapman’s memo.

“The vast majority of plastics must be transported overseas to be recycled and those markets have become saturated since China is no longer a viable market,” the memo says. “This means the material recovery facilities (MRFs) cannot sell the sorted and baled plastic, so they must pay to store it or landfill it. There is a similar scenario for low-quality mixed paper (newspaper, junk mail, chipboard, etc.). These two material streams are the primary reason it has become so expensive to collect and process single stream recycling.”

Nonetheless, recycling, no matter the cost, has an environmental benefit.

“By reducing the amount of material sent to be buried in the landfill, resources are conserved,” says Chapman’s memo. “It also extends the life of the sources of raw materials. The embodied energy and carbon emissions of manufacturing products from virgin resources are reduced when materials are recycled. Recycling results in greenhouse gas reduction, even when transportation emissions are considered.”

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.