Summit County and the High Country Conservation Center are exploring a communitywide recycling ordinance in an effort to edge closer to their goal of reaching a waste diversion rate of 40%.
The goal is outlined in the county’s climate action plan, which states that by 2035, the portion of the community’s waste that doesn’t reach the landfill will be 40%.
During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session Tuesday, Dec. 7, High Country Conservation Center Executive Director Jennifer Schenk and Denver-based waste consultant LBA Associates President Laurie Batchelder Adams gave a presentation introducing the concepts of “pay as you throw” and universal recycling.
“We have been working on creating a recycling policy or discussing it with Summit County for several years,” Schenk said during the meeting.
Right now, Schenk said the community’s diversion rate is sitting at about 20% and that these programs could inch the county closer to its goal. Schenk said that if the effort is supported by the board, there would likely be ordinances in all of the county’s jurisdictions in the future and that the programs would rely on the “Strong Future” fund to launch.
The two programs focus on different sectors of the community. The first, called “pay as you throw,” is geared toward households with individual trash cans, such as single-family homes. The second, called universal recycling, is geared toward enterprises that rely on shared trash containers, such as government entities, multifamily households, apartment buildings and businesses.
‘Pay as you throw’
“The value that ‘pay as you throw’ has proven in almost 8,000 communities across the country is not only is it the best mechanism we’ve found to increase residential recycling, but it brings equity to the system,” Batchelder Adams said. “Rather than get a one-size can at a flat price, suddenly you have choices. If you need less service, you pay less.”
It works like this: Residents choose what size trash bin they need — small, medium or large — while also getting a medium or larger recycling bin. The resident is then charged depending on how much trash they need hauled away. For example, a small load could be $20 per month, a medium load could be $36 and a large load could be $52. The price would be bundled for recycling and trash but is dependent on how much trash a resident accumulates, thus giving them more control over their bill. For example: If they decide to recycle more and have less waste, then they pay less.
The haulers essentially set the rate, but the county would work with them to develop a fee structure. Batchelder Adams said an 80% increase in prices between dumpster sizes seems to be the magic number that incentivizes residents to recycle more to keep their bill down.
Batchelder Adams said the program for entities that rely on shared trash containers is simpler than the residential program.
“What we are doing is making sure that all of these enterprises have recycling, and right now our best intelligence is that only 50% of generators that use dumpsters have any level of recycling now, and it might be cardboard only,” Batchelder Adams said.
She said the primary issue with the program is space: Most entities aren’t sure where to add an extra bin for recycling, so she said the rollout of the program would likely take longer to give those entities more time to figure it out. In some cases, this might mean using a parking space or require other land-use changes.
The goal is that, at least initially, the extra bin would allow the user’s waste to be about one-third recycling and two-thirds trash, getting the county closer to its goal.
No opting out
In either scenario, there would be no choice to opt out of recycling. Rather, the services would be bundled together. Schenk said the primary haulers in the community are Waste Management and Timberline Disposal, both of which are located in Silverthorne. The other two are Summit Roll-Offs and Summit VIP Trash Services.
Batchelder Adams did note that she did not expect any of these businesses to be driven out of the county with the new program.
Schenk said most of the upfront costs would come from swapping out trash bins, especially for residents who want a different size than the ones they have now. Schenk suggested this could be supported through the “Strong Future” fund.
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence asked how this would impact residents’ bills, and Batchelder Adams said the communities that have implemented similar ordinances — including Aspen, Pitkin County, Vail, Boulder and Fort Collins — have mostly found that bills stay the same or drop slightly. As time goes on and community members get more comfortable with the program, bills continue to drop.
It’s still too early to tell how this could impact drop-off recycling sites. Schenk said the drop-off sites are a major community benefit and that she’d like to keep them available for the time being, though Lawrence said she was unsure whether they’d be needed under the proposed program. Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard pointed out that some homes in remote parts of the county don’t use private trash services and rely on these drop-off sites more often than others.