In mid-October, officials from South Routt and across the state gathered at the Milner landfill and, over the course of six hours, picked through pounds and pounds of trash.
They found paper and cans, cleaning supplies and elk carcasses, building scraps and old food.
They weren't looking for something precious that was accidentally thrown away. Rather, they were collecting valuable information to determine how and what South Routt County -- which includes Oak Creek, Stagecoach, Phippsburg, Yampa and Toponas -- should recycle.
The idea behind the trash sort was that before a community can know what recycling options to offer its residents, it has to know what recyclables are being thrown away.
"We were really trying to get a bit of a snapshot," said Laurie Batchelder Adams. Batchelder Adams is a principle of LBA Associates, the consulting group that helped Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman apply for a $22,200 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to come up with a plan for managing waste in South Routt.
Trash looks different when it comes from people in different parts of the country, with different incomes and professions, at different times of the year, Batchelder Adams said.
Michael Zopf, director of Routt County Environmental Health, said that despite the fact that trash is different in different areas, this project had statewide implications, as it could provide a model to show what recycling efforts could be most effective.
Through the trash sort, two loads of compacted trash from South Routt were spread out on a grid, then portions were separated by type of trash. In this case, there were 50 different categories for the pieces of trash.
A preliminary analysis of the South Routt trash sort showed that the area's trash was about one-quarter paper and one-quarter organic materials, Batchelder Adams said.
There also was 17 percent residue, which is leftover material that can be identified and separated and typically includes ash, mashed up bits of paper, food and a little plastic. The remainder was 12 percent plastic, 6 percent construction and demolition materials, 5 percent glass, 4 percent metal and 3 percent household hazardous and special waste.
The next steps are to draft a solid waste management plan that includes trash projections for the next year, and to look at options and their economic feasibility for recycling, Batchelder Adams said. There is a chance another waste sort will be scheduled for the spring.
From preliminary results, it looks like two areas in which South Routt can improve are in recycling paper and hauling away problem material such as electronic scrap, paint and tires, Batchelder Adams said.
Rodeman said she was excited that the area received the grant, and looked forward to finding ways to make recycling easier for people across South Routt County.
"Step by step, we're getting, I hope, more conscious of what we're throwing away," Rodeman said.
"We want to make (recycling) as easy as we can, because most people aren't going to go out of their way to recycle," she added. "I think most people would do it, if it's easy."
Oak Creek offers one central recycling drop-off behind Town Hall, but that's about it.
Recycling and managing waste often is a problem in rural America, Batchelder Adams said. Making recycling work requires a critical mass of people, she said, which is hard to attain in less populated areas.
As a whole, Colorado does not put a lot of focus on solid waste, especially recycling and composting, because land is cheap and plentiful in comparison to some smaller, denser states, she said.
The ultimate goal, Rodeman said, is to bring environmental issues closer to everyone's minds.
"The goal is just to get us all on the same page of understanding that the earth is fragile, and we should be doing everything we can to take care of it," Rodeman said.