Recycling program could be too costly for the city

A truck empties a load at the Craig landfill. Though it could offset the amount of solid waste dumped into the municipal landfill, the cost of starting a new recycling program could squash the effort according to city staff.
Shawn McHugh/Craig Press archive

After digging a little deeper into what it would take to provide recycling services in Craig, the city may find the costs too steep to move forward. 

Earlier this spring, Craig and Moffat County officials started looking into the possibility of restarting a community recycling program. 

“We haven’t forgotten about recycling; we are still looking into it,” said Road and Bridge Director Trevor Campbell. 

In preliminary conversations, the city wanted to explore starting a small program that would accept cardboard and aluminum — two of the most viable materials — with the ability to scale the program up over time. 

Campbell, who oversees Craig’s Solid Waste Division, emphasized previously that the city would wants to put together a program where materials were being recycled in the most efficient way possible. 

The model that Campbell was exploring would have a single drop-off point — possibly at the previous recycling site or at the city landfill — where materials would be collected. The next piece of the puzzle would be finding how and where to transport the goods for processing. 

Campbell was utilizing expertise from Waste Diversion specialists with Yampa Valley Sustainability Council to find ways to process materials locally. YVSC was also considering helping with staffing at a recycling collection site in Craig. 

After initial conversations about restarting a recycling program, Campbell took a tour of Twin Enviro, Milner Mall and Waste Management, nearby facilities outside of Milner where recycled materials from Routt County are currently being collected and stored for processing. 

Campbell presented his findings from the tours at a combined city and county meeting on Wednesday, July 13. Campbell said if this is a service that the city wants to provide, there is going to be a cost to it.

Both of the local facilities have a single-stream recycling operation where all of the materials are mixed together during collection. 

Campbell said that neither of these entities would be providing recycling services if it weren’t required because it’s not a profitable operation. Steamboat Springs has a mandate that requires trash services to provide recycling services at no additional cost to the customers. 

Also, there is a cost associated with sorting and processing recycled goods, regardless if it is done locally or shipped elsewhere. 

Most of the locally collected materials are shipped to a facility on the Front Range for sorting, cleaning and processing. For this service, there is a cost per ton for transport and processing. A third party gets a return by selling the materials. 

Campbell estimated this method would cost the city approximately $100,000 per year, with 80% of that estimated cost going to shipping and the transportation of materials. The other 20% would cover staffing for collection and overseeing materials prior to shipping. 

“I am not saying that recycling is not an option, but it is going to cost money,” Campbell said.

Campbell said that if the city wanted to recoup costs for materials directly, it would need equipment to manage and bail recyclables, warehouse space to store the goods waiting to be sold and personnel to oversee the operation. 

“There is still more research to be done,” Campbell said. “And the city would have to get creative in finding ways to recoup money from the program.” 

During the initial conversations, Campbell wanted to try to find a solution for recycling that would not create an increase in user fees. But some communities charge for commercial recycling and have a free centralized place for residents to drop off recycling. Other communities raise fees for the city landfill to support a recycling program. 

During the combined meeting, council member Paul James said he can’t support a project that would increase the cost of living for people in the community, to which several council members agreed.

Some expressed concerns about the rate of contamination with current processing practices. The average contamination rate for recycling is between 25-30%. Council members said they were hesitant to support outright costs for a program that would not be 100% effective. 

“Until we get more community support and willingness to pay for it, then I don’t think we have enough budget to cover a service like this,” council member Chris Nichols said.

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