The viability of recycling: City, council officials begin looking into restarting a program in Moffat County
Many questions remain as city, county, YVSC start looking at possibilities
The city of Craig has started working with Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Moffat County commissioners to explore the possibility of bringing a recycling program back to the county.
“The city and the county are hoping to develop solutions to begin to address recycling in our community,” City Manager Peter Brixius said.
Road and Bridge Director Trevor Campbell, who is responsible for overseeing Craig’s Solid Waste Division, said the conversation is still very preliminary, and there are many logistics to work out before the entities can decide whether a program might be possible.
The logistics include how to collect recyclables, how to process them and make sure they are being processed correctly, and figuring out how to sustain a recycling program financially. The city has had preliminary conversations with YVSC and met briefly with the county commissioners to open up the conversation about recycling.
The intent would be to produce a recycling program that’s a combined effort between the city, county and YVSC, and it has to make sense and be able to support itself.
“We don’t want to provide a service with only the perception of recycling,” Campbell said. “From collection to processing and what happens on the back end, it has to be a thoughtful process.”
One of the barriers is preventing contamination.
All it takes is one bag of trash or a material that isn’t recyclable to be mixed in, and the whole bin is contaminated. It takes a lot of labor and many hours to sort contaminated materials by hand, and more often than not, contaminated bins end up going to the landfill.
To try to prevent these problems, the city would start small by offering recycling service for cardboard and aluminum — two of the most viable materials. If those services are well received, the city could look at other services.
“I think it’s smart to start small, particularly with items that we know the market is there for. That just sets the program up for success,” said Winn Cowman, waste diversion director for YVSC.
Part of mitigating contamination is having a fenced-in facility that is staffed during collection hours, so materials that are dropped off can be verified to be truly recyclable.
There are a few options being discussed for collection sites: One would utilize the previous recycling site on the north side of Craig on Colorado Highway 13, which would need to be fenced in; the other would be to collect recycling at the Craig landfill, which is already fenced and secured.
Collecting recyclables is only half of it. The entities will also have to figure out where the recyclables will go and how they will get there.
“What are the best, most cost-effective ways to get the materials transported and processed, and is there the possibility of doing some of the processing locally?” posed Michelle Stewart, executive director of YVSC.
As a part of a larger effort to support solid waste disposal across the Yampa Valley, YVSC may consider assisting with staffing a Craig recycling collection site to help ensure collection is being done correctly. Stewart said increasing recycling services and waste diversion across the whole Yampa Valley is a priority for YVSC.
“Working with the sustainability council will make a good partnership; they have a lot of experience with this, as well as other sustainability and community projects,” Campbell said.
The timing of this project is aligned with increased efforts across the state to increase waste diversion.
“By 2036, the state of Colorado has set really ambitious goals — 45% diversion — it behooves the Yampa Valley to be aligned with those goals.” Stewart said.
The benefits of increased recycling are twofold, according to Cowman. Not only does it reduce greenhouse gases produced by waste in landfills, it also allows more data collection to better understand the impact of recycling.
When recycling isn’t done correctly, it ends up costing more in the long run.
As much as 75% of the recycling process is education, and YVSC can support the project through community education and outreach. The community needs to know what, how and when to recycle to fully utilize such a program.
“We don’t want to invest time and resources in an effort that the community won’t support,” Campbell said.
Getting community feedback on a recycling program will be important to determine whether to move forward with the project. In 2020, Craig issued a survey via utility billing inserts to all solid waste customers within the city. Out of the 3,900 surveys issued, 179 were completed and returned, roughly a 4.6% response rate.
Of the responses, 86% said they value having access to recycling and wish for it to continue, and 73% responded they were willing to pay to maintain recycling center access.
The low number of responses to the original survey is a concern for city officials. There will potentially be another survey conducted to get more feedback from community members.
Ultimately, it will be up to the city and county to ensure any potential recycling program is supported and funded, and there will be many more discussions within the city, county and YVSC about a new recycling program.
“We got rid of recycling in the past because it wasn’t making sense at the time,” Campbell said. “Now, the city is making true on its promise to reevaluate bringing a recycling program back to Craig, but it has to make sense.”
When city officials decided to shut down the previous recycling program, the price of recyclables had gone down and the program was no longer financially sustainable.
Cowman and Stewart confirmed this was a trend in many rural areas over the past few years, and now local leaders are looking into more effective recycling systems.
“Recycling is not free — there are a lot of expenses on the back end. We are trying to figure out the best way to recoup the costs,” Campbell said.
Financial sustainability is the biggest consideration with reestablishing recycling.
The city aims to find a way to fund recycling without adding fees to customer bills, raising rates for municipal waste services or relying on tax dollars. They are looking at other entities that have funded a recycling program to determine an equitable way of funding a countywide program.
Other municipalities have funded recycling by adding a nominal fee to tonnage at the landfill. For example, 10 cents per ton would go toward a recycling fund. That may be one option to pay for a countywide recycling program.
In the meantime, there are other avenues for Moffat County residents for both recycling and waste disposal. Axis Steel in Craig accepts scrap metal recyclables and will weigh and purchase aluminum cans.
The city and county will be hosting Craig Clean Up Day on May 14, where used tires and appliances will be accepted for safe disposal.
Moffat County residents will also receive a voucher valid for one 3-ton trip to the Craig landfill in May or June. Craig residents will receive vouchers by mail and county residents will need to pick up vouchers from the county.
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