Tom Ross

Tom Ross

Tom Ross: In Routt County, your trash ain't nothin' but cash

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Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Tom here.

— Just about everyone I know has the lyrics of a song recorded by the Steve Miller Band stuck in their brain somewhere. You can’t escape “Space Cowboy,” “Gangster of Love” and “The Joker.”

For some reason, the song I can’t get out of my head this week is a tender relationship song: “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash.”

A sample of the lyrics goes like this:

“I told her she could have all of my dough

She turned around and with a frown,

said, 'This ain’t a circus

And I don’t need no clown

Your cash ain’t nothin’ but trash.'”

After hearing Scott “Hutch” Hutchings’ presentation last week about recycling trash into renewable energy, I’ve decided to turn those lyrics upside down.

The truth is that in 2012, your trash ain’t nothin' but cash.

Hutchings spoke Tuesday in Steamboat Springs during an event hosted by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council at Steamboat Smokehouse. Waste Management is the largest trash hauler here, and Hutchings is its manager of public and government affairs for the Four Corners region.

He said Waste Management CEO David Steiner made a transformative shift in their business model five years ago, deciding to focus less on putting trash in landfills and more on becoming a sustainable energy company.

The new mantra at Waste Management is to make the landfill the last resort after all possible value has been extracted from the “trash” that households and companies put in their Dumpsters.

Waste Management, Hutchings said, actually has become an energy producer. The company captures methane from landfills and combusts solid waste to make electricity. The company claims to produce eight times more renewable energy than the solar industry — enough to power more than 1.2 million homes and the equivalent of 23.5 million barrels of oil or almost 6.1 million tons of coal.

Hutchings said Waste Management owns 32,000 vehicles, 18,000 of them trash trucks. Of the total, 1,400 are powered by compressed natural gas. The company is converting 500 vehicles to CNG annually.

Waste Management also is collaborating with 14 emerging companies that are working on new ways to create renewable energies.

Among them is a company that turns landfill methane into liquefied gas in plants located next to landfills. Another company, Harvest Power, uses anaerobic digesters to turn organic waste into energy. A third company turns woody biomass into ethanol, and a company called Agilyx has a plant in Portland, Ore., at the Waste Management materials recovery facility where it turns recycled plastic products into crude oil.

If all of that isn’t sufficient motivation to convince you to renew your own recycling efforts, consider this compliment from Zuff Zuffelato, territory manager for Waste Management in Steamboat Springs.

“I’ve never seen a town like this,” Zuffelato said. “This is fanatical recycling. The people in this town should be proud. It has the least contamination (in recycled materials) I’ve ever seen.”

Waste Management isn’t the only trash and recycling pickup service in Routt County, nor does it own the Milner Landfill, which goes to great lengths to recycle and compost. All of the local companies and institutions involved in extracting valuable resources from what was once viewed as garbage play an important role.

Because your trash ain’t nothin’ but cash.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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