Dumpster

Steakhouse No. 316 received a ticket on Sunday after a manager was bitten by a bear rummaging through the garbage. Shown here, the restaurant’s dumpster was latched on Wednesday but like most homes and businesses in town, its recycling container was not secured. Aspen police are looking at ways to make recycling debris less attractive toward bears.

As bear activity has dominated much of the local discourse in Aspen in recent weeks, the Aspen Police Department is working on shifting the conversation from trash to recyclables.

The city’s municipal code has a lengthy definition for refuse.

“Refuse mean any waste that could reasonably attract wildlife which includes, but shall not be limited to, kitchen organic waste, food, food packaging, toothpaste, deodorant, cosmetics, spices, seasonings and grease,” it reads. 

But the code specifically excludes recyclables in its definitions involving wildlife attractants: “Refuse does not include recyclables.”

That’s become a problem, community response officer Ginna Gordon explained.

“Unless your recyclables are cleaned, they would still serve … as an enticement for wildlife,” she said. 

Additionally, because code enforcement currently only applies to dumpsters for trash and not recycling containers, many businesses only lock their dumpster — leaving their recycling containers open for passersby to dispose garbage.

“Now, we’re seeing an increase of people leaving their garbage in a recycling container. That’s hard because that’s not necessarily the business’ fault that somebody was using their container without their knowledge,” Gordon said. But she added that businesses still have a responsibility to do what they can to deter it from happening.

Related: Black bear bites Aspen restaurant manager

One solution? Change the city code to include recyclables in its definition of wildlife attractants, Linda Consuegra, assistant police chief, offered. That starts with bringing Aspen City Council into the dialogue.

“This is something we’re actually probably going to be considering: trying to see how we can approach council in amending our ordinance, and try to work with businesses for the next year and try to get recycling containers to be compliant with a latch,” she said.

Until that happens, though, Gordon suggested people be proactive with their recycling.

“In the meantime, the message is: the best practice with recyclables is to clean them out,” she said. 

And there are options for storing those recyclables more responsibly, too, she continued.

“Ace Hardware, they have an [Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee]-approved container there that they sell. There’s a really great model that’s actually self latching,” she said. “That’s a great alternative to use as a recycling container that people can use.”

At least one of those models has a $269 price tag, according to Snowmass local Patty Holbrook. She said it’s absolutely worth it, considering that a first offense for noncompliance — especially if it results in a bear visit — is $250.

“It’s a lot of money, but your first ticket is going to be $250, so which one would you rather do? Let’s save the bears and save your pocketbook in the long run,” she said.

In fact, noncompliance citations in Aspen start at $250, but then double for the second offense to $500 and again for the third — $1,000 and a court summons.

“Even a $250 fine does impact our businesses. They have a bottom line to pay attention to, and it escalates,” Gordon said.

Consuegra noted that, relatively speaking, Aspen’s fine structure is significant — and a lot of thought went into making it that way. 

“We do … research similar municipalities and mountain communities and take that into consideration for a reasonable fine that similar municipalities are using,” she said. “For example, Snowmass is only $50. And also, [Colorado Parks and Wildlife] is $50. We try not to be too much but at the same time be enough to maybe get someone’s attention.” 

90 seconds is all it takes

Steakhouse No. 316 management has certainly heard the message loud and clear. After receiving a $250 citation for unsecured garbage Aug. 6, the restaurant staff pursued every avenue toward full compliance, manager Brent Guthas said.

“I’d been calling Colorado Waste Management for four days,” Guthas said, adding that the restaurant now has a new container. 

Unfortunately, it only took about a minute and a half on Aug. 18 for a bear to find its way inside the Hopkins Avenue establishment’s dumpster anyway. It had been appropriately locked all day, but then the kitchen staff was taking out the night’s trash, which required multiple trips. 

“He’s been stalking our container,” Guthas quipped. “It’s probably the best garbage in town — I mean, it’s steak!”

That incident resulted in another manager on duty that night suffering minor wounds from a bite to the leg after he tried to scare the bear away — and a $500 ticket from APD.

“It’s unfortunate. We’ve tried to be very compliant,” Guthas said, adding that the whole team cares very much about the situation. “Not just for the bear, but for the town.”

Megan Tackett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.