Waste diversion ideas proposed

ALAMOSA — Less will go into area landfills and trash barrels and more into recycling bins if plans for waste diversion are implemented in the San Luis Valley.

Organizations leading a waste diversion effort and the consultant they hired to study the issue presented three main proposals for waste diversion during public meetings throughout the Valley this week, including one in Alamosa Wednesday night. Leading this effort have been the SLV Ecosystem Council and Conejos Clean Water.

The three main proposals the waste diversion task force hopes to implement as a result of its efforts in recent months are: regional recycling and trash drop off sites; educational programs specifically aimed at students and elected officials; and enhancements to the Rickey Recycling Center located in Alamosa, which would be necessary if the drop off sites are successful.

Consultant Laurie Batcheleder Adams, founder of the consulting firm LBA Associates, said as far as a timeline goes, the first proposal that would likely be implemented would be the educational programs because it will take more time, planning, coordination and funding to implement the drop off sites. She also explained that if the City of Alamosa pursues curbside recycling for residential customers, an idea that was briefly discussed earlier this year, the city’s recycling center might change, and the drop off sites would need to coincide with Alamosa’s recycling center, since it would likely be the primary recipient of recycled items from the drop off sites.

Currently, Alamosa’s recycling center, the Rickey Recycling Center, has separate bins for separate items such as paper and cans. That would be the set up for proposed drop off sites as well, Adams explained, if Alamosa’s system continues as it is. If Alamosa went to a single-stream system — meaning all the recycled items were put into one bin at residences and one container at the recycling center, rather than sorted out before recycled — the drop off sites would likely need to be set up that way as well.

The cost to set up a single-stream system at drop off sites is less than setting up a system with individual slots or bins for recycled materials, Adams explained. If land was donated for each drop off site, the cost for bins and equipment at an “all in high end” site would be $66,000-110,000, and annual operating costs such as tipping fees, shared costs of the Rickey Recycling Center, staff and equipment maintenance would run $80,000-95,000, Adams said.

She said over a 10-year period as many as 10 drop-off sites could be located throughout the Valley to make it easier and more accessible for people to recycle. Six-cubic-yard trash bins would also be located at the sites, which would be about 7,000 square feet each.

A unit that would separate areas for sorted recycled items would run about $17,000, Adams said. The whole unit could be hauled to the Rickey Recycling Center, unloaded and brought back to the drop off site. By comparison, if items were not separated but all recycled items thrown together in a “single stream” system, 6-cubic-yard containers could be used for everything. Those cost $1,500 each, compared to $17,000, Adams explained.

The capital investment in a drop off site would decrease from $66,000 to about $25,000 and annual operating costs from $80,000 to $50,000, she added.

“What you sacrifice is value on the back end,” she said.

Quantities would probably increase but quality might decrease, she explained. Also, the comingled recycled items would have to be transported out of the Valley to a site that sorts them out, such as a center in Colorado Springs.

Adams described some potential revenue sources for the drop off sites:

• Taxes or mill levies

• User fees like tipping fees, similar to the fees assessed those taking trash to the regional landfill (requiring more staff or volunteers)

• Pre-paid trash bags that would be sold at retailers throughout the Valley, for $3-5 a bag, which would be an incentive to recycle and would be equitable, Adams explained

• Capital funding grants from places like the Department of Local Affairs

Regarding the educational proposal, the idea would be to go from both bottom up (students) as well as top down (elected officials), Adams explained. Recycling, she said, requires a culture shift.

She cited an example of a student-led recycling program at Centauri High School. The problem with the recycling club there, however, is that it consists of only two students, seniors Tona Lavadour and Vianey Valdez. If other students do not join the effort, it might end when these two students graduate.

The two students are aggressive and eager in their efforts, placing recycling bins throughout the school and putting the recycled materials in their cars and transporting them to the Alamosa recycling center themselves.

What would be helpful in North Conejos and other schools would be for recycling to become part of the curriculum, Adams said. It could be worked into science classes, for example, she said.

She acknowledged it wasn’t that simple to add recycling into the curriculum because schools have so many strict standards they must meet. However, that is one way to increase involvement throughout the student body.

Adams estimated the cost of setting up a recycling depot and in-school bins at $26,000, or $5,000-6,000 if it was a single-stream system. She also estimated annual operating costs at $7,000 including hauling costs.

Adams proposed the educational component for elected officials to be conducted through tutorials in game-show formats such as “Jeopardy” or “bingo.” She said people do not realize how complex the solid waste industry is, so education is important to dispel myths (like recycling makes money or burning trash doesn’t hurt anybody) and give elected officials the facts they need to share with constituents and on which to make decisions. The cost for this educational component would be about $20,000 for the tutorial development and deployment, according to Adams.

The third proposal involved enhancements to Rickey Recycling Center. Adams said if recycling takes off, the Alamosa center will need more equipment and staff, and the waste diversion project would have to pay its share of that. For example, a new baling system would cost about $355,000-360,000. Additional labor might total $14,000-40,000 a year, she added.

“The city has not committed to anything,” Adams said. She said she has been talking with Alamosa Public Works Director Pat Steenburg about the waste diversion proposals and how they might affect the city’s recycling center.

Adams said she did not anticipate any revenue from recycling in these proposals, and if there were any, it would go back to the recycling center to offset tipping fees.

Adams suggested that moving forward some group, perhaps a new entity, would have to lead out in the development of these proposals and seeking funding. It would need to be a regional entity to accomplish the goals and monitor the network of drop off sites that are proposed.

“Don’t assume the ecosystem council and CCW will continue to do it,” Adams said. “Who is going to own the network of drop off sites?”

It should be a regional organization, and the ecosystem council is regional, she added, but so are the solid waste authority and the Council of Governments.

“Should it be a new organization?” she asked. “Who quarterbacks the new program?”

Currently, the San Luis Valley is ahead of the state average for waste diversion but not up to the national average. The national average is 35 percent, the state average is 12 percent, and the Valley’s average is 18 percent out of the 40,000 tons of residential and commercial waste generated in 2016 (not including agricultural or industrial waste.)

“If we increase a few percentages we could be twice the state average,” Adams said.

See more information at www.slvec.org/

Caption: Consultant Laurie Batcheleder Adams gives an update on the waste diversion project in Alamosa on Wednesday. Courier photo by Ruth Heide