Trash haulers preparing for new era of bear-proof trash containers in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — Steve Weinland knows many Steamboat Springs residents won’t enjoy shelling out $250 next year for a new trash can.
The owner of Aces High Services also expects his trash collectors will be slowed down as they deal with the new cans and their sophisticated locks that keep black bears out of them.
But Weinland doesn’t see any better way to help save the bears.
He and local city and wildlife officials think that in the end, when the regular trash containers frequented by bears in the city start getting replaced by the wildlife-resistant models, it all will have been worth the cost.
“We’re not trying to get into pocketbooks, we’re trying to save the bears,” Weinland said Monday as he talked about the 96-gallon Toter trash container he is planning to start offering to his customers next year if the Steamboat Springs City Council next week gives final approval to an ordinance requiring all residents to use such containers outside.
“I’m getting tired of hearing about these bears that are getting euthanized here” after getting into trash, Weinland said. “People created this problem. People need to take care of it.”
With the tougher trash ordinance poised to get that final approval from the council, local trash collectors like Weinland already are looking into how the new containers will impact them and their customers.
Some are more certain than others about the costs and the impacts of the rules that would start April 1.
Weinland’s preparations included a summer field test of the containers he plans to offer, both on the trucks and off.
He worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to fill the bear-proof container with expired fruit and monitor it with a video camera.
Weinland said video footage showed what he estimated to be a 450-pound sow trying to get to the fruit inside the container on Pine Grove Road.
“She stomped on it. She clawed it, and she didn’t make a mark on it,” Weinland said. “I was amazed.”
Weinland said he is expecting his company will have to pay at least $150,000 to buy all the equipment that will allow his residential and commercial customers to comply with the city’s new rules.
Customers would have to pay an estimated $250 for the containers up front because Weinland said the company cannot afford to make that investment without recouping the costs quickly.
The $150,000 investment also includes the cost of strengthening lids on commercial dumpsters.
He does not anticipate having to raise monthly rates because of the bear-proof containers. He added that most residential trash customers in the city do not have the wildlife-resistant containers.
Regardless of their trash collector, customers who use a rolling trash container to take trash to the curb likely will pay anywhere from $200 to $350 for a new wildlife-resistant model, depending on the size.
They’ll be able to shop online for their own model if they want.
But it will have to be a model on the city’s list of approved containers, and it will be important for customers to check with their trash haulers first to make sure the container is compatible with their trucks that use robotic arms to service trash cans.
Weinland said he expects most of the city’s approved containers will work with his company’s trucks.
One unlucky Steamboat resident found out Monday that the new bear-proof trash container they bought wasn’t compatible with Twin Enviro Services’ collection system.
The container fell off into a collection truck and was destroyed in a compactor.
“You can imagine we’re interested in having all of our customers having containers that can be accommodated by our trucks,” Twin Enviro Services CFO Marlin Mullet said.
Unlike Weinland, Mullet said he isn’t ready to embrace the city’s proposed rules just yet.
He said his company would like the City Council to take more time to consider the new rules and their impact on residential customers and trash haulers.
He said that would give trash haulers more time to talk to customers about the impacts and also gauge the effectiveness of new rules on commercial dumpsters first.
“I’m not convinced consumers really know what’s coming,” Mullet said. “It’s the residential side (of the rules) that is causing us our biggest concern.”
Mullet said he also would like to see recycling rules addressed at the same time as the trash rules.
Meanwhile, representatives from Steamboat’s other major trash collector said they still are working to determine what impact the city’s rules would have on their customers.
Waste Management spokeswoman Lara Rezzarday said in an email that the company doesn’t yet “have a feel for how this will impact us or our customers in regards to cost or equipment.”
“We have sold bear-resistant containers for many years in the mountains of Colorado, but not to the extent the potential Steamboat ordinance would require,” she wrote.
City officials were hopeful that trash customers here would be able to pay for a less expensive retrofit of their existing trash containers.
But that option isn’t a certainty.
“All around the state, refuse haulers are experimenting with these retrofits because this is an issue all over the place,” said Casey Earp, assistant to City Manager Deb Hinsvark.
Earp said he’s heard of a good option possibly coming out of the city of Boulder but that it still needs to be tested and approved to ensure it is adequately bear proof.
The testing involves putting the trash container in a pen with a grizzly bear in West Yellowstone, Montana, and ensuring it cannot be breached.
View the city’s list of approved trash containers below this story.