VALLEY — Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, the US consumes 1,500 plastic water bottles every second, with 80 percent ending up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist.
Seventeen million barrels of oil are used in producing bottled water each year. With much more information to come from the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council’s (SLVEC) campaign to promote recycling and improvements needed for its 10-year plan, SLVEC is taking a critical look at the recycling assets that are in place, reviewing possible ways of using existing services to full benefit potential and considering actions taken by other Colorado rural areas to advance waste diversion and recycling systems.
The Valley has a small but first-class source-separated drop-site for recyclable materials in Alamosa’s household and business waste stream; single-stream curbside service in parts of Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache counties; and recyclers of electronics, used clothing, scrap metal, and other special waste products, like car batteries, in various locations. Residents of Conejos and Costilla counties, on the other hand, do not have a facility, collection service, or a designated place to take recyclables. Residents of Costilla County, however, deserve huge credit for their willingness to pursue tax initiatives to solve these issues.
Gaps in service are also ongoing in unincorporated parts of Alamosa and the other counties outside city/town limits, and in other communities throughout the Valley that have no connection to established collection routes or drop-off sites.
Representing the Valley’s best step forward in waste diversion, the City of Alamosa’s Rickey Recycling Center (RRC) offers a staffed facility open seven days a week, with source-separated drop-off containers for steel and aluminum cans, newspapers and magazines, cardboard, white paper, shredded paper, #1 and #2 plastics, milk jugs, glass bottles and jars, and space for wood and yard waste. The RRC also plays a key role in the 10-year plan by serving as the Valley’s hub for collecting, baling, and storing incoming recyclables from a network of regional drop-sites, and providing for subsequent transfer to end-markets by a seasoned market hauler.
In spite of a long haul to reach MRF (Material Recovery Facility) sorting facilities and end-markets, and a discounted market value in the mixed loads, single-stream curbside collection service on the west side of the Valley remains consistent. This is also true on a smaller scale in parts of Saguache County and the northern Valley which are fortunate to have a PAYT-based (Pay-As-You-Throw) source-separated collection, and can also use drop-off recycling at the county’s landfill site.
Source-separated hauling has less contamination and maintains commodity value, but requires more hauls and is subject to daily changes in national and global end-market prices. Hauler problems—including a lack of operating capital, equipment, and workforce—have prevented expansion of source-separated collection services; but this could be remedied by grants for hauling and baling equipment, and business investment assistance.
The SLV’s Regional Landfill should also be counted among the Valley’s recycling assets because it accommodates a controlled environment for removal of what can’t be recycled (or too contaminated to be recycled) from the waste stream, and provides a central location for transfer of electronic, hazardous, and various special wastes to appropriate recyclers. Recycling for baling twine, and a roll-off for mixed recyclables for those without any other place to go, are also available at the landfill.
In common with other rural areas of the state, the Valley faces a structural challenge in the industry by its rural market position exemplified by long distances and travel expense to end-markets, more limited population and a corresponding lower volume of recyclables, strong competition from urban areas equipped with MRF technology, and less infrastructure to handle what we do have. Yet, in spite of market position, many areas in rural Colorado have managed to overcome these challenges and create successful recycling programs.
Entirely missing from the San Luis Valley, but addressed in other rural areas, is programming for composting organic and food waste which comprises 32 percent of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) in landfill trash.
Looking for ways to take action, the ecosystem council has learned in its review that to be successful in recycling requires the fortitude to impose stricter rules and mandates over appeals for voluntary cooperation or compliance, and it has detected reluctance within Valley communities. Education regarding the proper disposal of material waste will be essential in moving policies forward.
Part of the current SLVEC education and outreach campaign also focuses on overcoming negative or uncooperative mindsets over issues regarding acceptance of the responsibility to recycle, and regarding the fact that recycling is not free. The campaign also seeks to create the self-acknowledgement that with the purchase of a product also comes its disposal (or recycling) costs. And the campaign is also aimed at replacing complacency with a renewed conviction that inaction or indifference toward illegal dumping, littering, and other signs of disrespect will no longer be tolerated.
An educational component for school students in various grade levels was included as part of the 2017 Waste Diversion Plan in conjunction with its Conejos Clean Water (CCW) partner, and continues on under CCW guidance at Centauri High School as a pilot project for possible introduction to other schools. With the exception of recycling activities on the Adams State University campus, a full assessment of educational activities in other schools also remains as a future project. Educational programming about recycling and field trips to systems operating in other areas are also planned for public officials.
SLVEC also wants to thank the Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling Task Force team members, who met monthly throughout 2017 and continue to meet quarterly, to provide guidance to implement a 10-Year Plan that guides efforts to close gaps and create a Valley wide infrastructure for Waste Reduction and Recycling that’s accessible to all communities.
Recalling success with present public lands outreach and past campaigns for protecting the Valley’s water resources and air quality, SLVEC Director Christine Canaly said, “Public information and support is the key for progress on recycling, and we are hoping this campaign will open up more questions on what it will take to get ownership through our public officials and community leaders on this issue.”
For more information, or to get involved, please call SLVEC (719) 589-1518 or e-mail: [email protected]