Politics

How bad are Coloradans at recycling? A Chaffee County contractor shut down its free sites due to bad actors and meager profits

Angel of Shavano Recycling spent 15 years sifting through Chaffee County’s trash to collect its treasures – plastic, cardboard, paper, newspapers, tin and aluminum. But meager profits and poor customer behavior prompted owner, Mickey Barry, to close the gates at the four free community recycling sites.

“In the recycling industry, drop sites were so abused that they were more business than profit,” he said.

Barry saw more and more recyclables strewn about the floor rather than indoor bins, and even toilets and appliances left at landing sites. So he shut down Angel of Shavano and moved to a job he said was better for his family.

The company, which is headquartered in Puncha Springs, will end its service on Thursday, April 8th. Barry’s announcement caught Chafee County government officials by surprise and wondering what to do about picking up the company’s work. Angel of Shavano collected 4 million pounds of recyclable materials just last year.

In a statement, Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt said, “We thank the Barry family for their perseverance through many years of these circumstances and we wish them well in the future.”

However, this does not mean the end of recycling for the county’s rural community. Instead, the government has quickly turned to commercial garbage carriers – Chaffee County Waste and Waste Management – as alternatives.

Residents and merchant accounts will be able to pay for the two companies’ receipt for curbside recycling. According to Welt, this is not a drastic financial change from the previously free drop site service, which was in fact supported by provincial and municipal budgets.

“They have some good options,” Felt said. “They probably won’t be able to handle every aspect of this to everyone’s satisfaction, but basically, any resident of Xavi County, I think, should be able to engage in single-stream recycling.”

The rural environment in Xavi County can make running a recycling program less profitable due to its smaller economy. For example, Chaffee County Waste added twice-a-week curbside recycling in January.

However, Felt pointed to the environmental benefits of keeping recycling an option. Moreover, these programs prevent unnecessary waste from entering landfills.

Dan Short, Chief Financial Officer of Chaffee County, said the county landfill capacity stays around 92 years, based on current dumping and recycling rates. Recycling programs help extend this life by keeping reusable materials out. The long life of the landfill – off US Highway 285 outside Salida – means fewer problems for county government and society.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like when I’m a county commissioner and trying to locate a new 100-acre landfill in Chaffee County,” Felt said. “That would be the kind of worst assignment you could possibly draw.”

As the provincial government continues to monitor the new plan, it is looking at the results of a recent study on waste diversion to adjust future programs to recycle as much waste as possible.

“You hate to see this perfectly applicable toddler bike in the metal pile, when you know there are young children who like to ride a bike,” Felt said.

Colorado’s recycling rate – also known as the municipal solid waste conversion rate – has fallen into 15.9% in 2019 from 17.2% in 2018. Overall, 850,000 tons of materials were recycled by 165 properties in Colorado in 2019According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

International market forces have made it difficult for recyclers to turn a profit in recent years.

The United States has long been exporting a large amount of its recyclable waste to China. But starting in 2018, China launched Operation National Sword. The program raised quality standards and pollution limits on recyclable waste imports, which means that some lower quality plastics are no longer acceptable.

For recyclers, this means lower prices for some recyclables and less profit.

“The big change, of course, was when China stopped taking our recyclables,” said Felt. “This appears to be just the beginning of many challenges, both domestically and globally.”

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