New recycling fee in Steamboat Springs puts pressure on the Green Machine


— Steamboat area residents are almost as passionate about recycling, it seems, as they are about skiing. So, as public awareness grew this week that Waste Management has begun charging non-customers a $5 minimum fee to drop off their empty merlot bottles at the Waste Management yard, it caused a kerfuffle.

Reader poll

Waste Management has begun charging non-customers $5 for recycling. What do you think about this fee?

  • Customers pay for the service along with trash, so the fee makes sense 28%
  • Recycling should be a free service 32%
  • The Green Machine should be available more days of the week to avoid this 26%
  • $5 is worth paying for the service 14%

158 total votes.

The fee covers recycling drop-offs up to 96 gallons — the size of a curbside rollaway bin.

Rural Steamboat resident Dick Boersma was upset after his first visit to the recycling yard after the change on Jan. 6, but his outlook brightened when he learned that as a customer, he won’t be charged in the future.

“The first time I went out there, it wasn’t explained to me. They just told me it would be $5,” Boersma said. “But I went back today with my little sack of recycling, and they asked if I was a customer, and when I said I was, there was no charge.”

And that’s a key piece of the news. Waste Management customers in Steamboat still enjoy curbside recycling with their trash at no charge, and rural Waste Management customers like Boersma, for whom curbside pickup is not available, may still recycle at no charge in the yard. It’s those who are not Waste Management customers who are affected.

Waste Management officials in Denver say that the new fee comes at a time when their industry is trying to envision the best way to offer recycling in the future without continuing to lose money. And locally, the members of the board of Yampa Valley Recycles are worried that the new fee will completely inundate the free Green Machine recycling program on weekends in the parking lot of the local Safeway.

“People used to be able to drop (their recyclables) off for free, and now there’s a relatively small fee. It’s causing a bit of a backlash,” YVR Board President Garrett Smith said at the group’s first meeting of the new year. “Unfortunately, recycling is not a free service, and a lot of people still consider it as a commodity that’s just available to them.”

Sarah Jones, executive director of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, agreed.

“Recycling isn’t free,” she said. “And if it’s to become sustainable, and (we’re to) keep it in our community, it has to be paid for. Gallegos Sanitation recently shut down its recycling facility in Greeley. Recycling could go away.”

Lara Rezzarday, Waste Management senior communications specialist in the Four Corners Area, said the new fee in Steamboat comes as recycling companies are examining every part of the business.

“The cost to recycle has increased because we are dealing with a more complex, more contaminated mix, while market conditions have constricted, demanding cleaner loads of outbound recyclables,” Rezzarday said. “This is forcing Waste Management and other recyclers to examine every part of our recycling business for opportunities to improve the quality of material we receive, improve our operations and improve opportunities to offer recycling to our customers.”

Rezzarday’s colleague Tiffany Moehring said free dropoff recycling sites are becoming a thing of the past and have been discontinued in some markets.

“There is actually an increased cost for recycling across the board,” Moehring said. “With the transportation cost, it becomes really difficult to continue operating. The material coming out of Steamboat actually is taken all the way down to Denver.”

Moehring said she was unable to confirm it Wednesday, but it’s possible Steamboat is the only Waste Management site in Colorado where the $5 fee has been imposed. That’s due to the rarity of the free dropoff to begin with. In Vail, the town government pays Waste Management to provide a similar service, and in Grand Junction, for example, there is a full-blown material recovery facility at the yard.

Now, members of Yampa Valley Recycles are concerned that the $5 fee will put more pressure on the Green Machine, which provides free recycling on weekends, when the yard at Waste Management is closed. The Green Machine is funded in part through a rebate of a small portion of tipping fees collected at Twin Landfill near Milner and passed through Routt County government.

Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf, who has been active in promoting recycling, said the Green Machine was being overused even before the fee was imposed by Waste Management.

The county and YVR provide two 20-yard recycling dumpsters and a six-yard container for cardboard every weekend, but they often are filled before noon Saturday. And people continue to leave their recycling behind.

“I don’t think people are intending to litter. But people show up and containers are overflowing by Saturday morning,” Zopf said. “Then they come on Sunday morning with their cars loaded, and they think somebody is going to pick it up so they leave it.”

Zopf said YVR will continue to try to persuade Waste Management to open its yard on Saturdays and also will seek to set up meetings with Aces High Services and Twin Landfill/Old West, two other haulers, to learn what other options exist.

Moehring said her company will continue to cooperate with the Steamboat market on meeting its needs.

“We want to be part of the answer,” Moehring said. “The solution will come from working with folks in the community.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


Scott Wedel 3 years, 3 months ago

Well, I went to a number of YVR meetings to try to interest them in a lower cost alternative of using the materials recycling facility (MFR) at the Eagle County landfill. That would replace the "single stream" Green Machine with presumably two recycling trailers, one for containers and one for paper/cardboard. The hauling cost to the Eagle County MFR would be substantially less than what YVR pays per cubic yard for the Green Machine which requires the contents hauled to Waste Management's massive MFR in Denver.

But the YVR board greatly prefers the single stream Green Machine because they say it is generally too difficult to expect locals to sort.

They refused to consider any part of hauling to Eagle County MFR until I wrote a business plan. Meanwhile, they never wrote or required a business plan for using Waste Management's Green Machine. The basic conclusion of my business plan is that if I were to start a recycling hauling business and buy the trailers then they would consider a bid to replace the Green Machines. There is no way that I or anyone else would make that sort of investment in order to be make a bid. It was my intent to show that they could use their popularity, PR skills and access to government funding to acquire the two trailers and then could put out for bid the hauling contracts. Trailers full of recycling materials weigh less than a load of hay and so could be hauled by anyone with a one ton dually pickup.

Oh well. So they do know they have lower cost alternatives to the Green Machine, but they don't want to ask the public to do dual stream recycling.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 3 months ago


I do agree that the YVR board and Yampa Valley Housing Authority board are dominated by useless liberals for which ideology and "good ideas" are far more important than any basic understanding of economics or operating a business. YVR board is so dominated the apparatus of the local Democratic Party that in meeting breaks they have discussed upcoming Party events and Party organization issues confident in the knowledge that no Republican or independent voter was present. When I pointed out that it didn't seem appropriate to so seamlessly mix official government board meeting with partisan planning, I was told that I was considered part of them.

I've been in meetings where the mere idea that a corporation would make money providing an essential service met with derision from a couple of board members.

Both boards desperately need some new board members less in love with the good karma of doing good things and have business and economic sense to seek to operate efficiently and effectively. As an example, YVHA operated the mobile home park for years without caring whether certain tenants paid rent and allowed those tenants to run up huge owed balances.


Thomss Steele 3 years, 3 months ago

The amount of money made in recycling is immense. I will no longer participate of charged a fee. All to the landfill.


john bailey 3 years, 3 months ago

ah hahhaa are we starting to see the light ? don't TAX me , bro.....all things feel good , right ?


rhys jones 3 years, 3 months ago

What a rip -- and the well-meaning public gets fleeced again.

I worked at a recycling center in Phoenix, specializing in electronics, cable, light bulbs, ballasts, etc -- and including PCB's, mercury, and lead, some of which escaped into the environment, despite the precautions, and I digress.

That business is a cash cow: The money drives in one gate, some grunts separate it for minimum wage, then people buy the crap you sorted, hauling it off in their own trucks.

Nobody was losing money -- now they're just making more. Just like the new pot shops: Principle is one thing -- pocket book something else. Landfills don't bother me.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 3 months ago

Recycling paper, cardboard, plastic and so on is not a cash cow up here. The Eagle County MRF was built with a grant and gets free labor from the county prisoners and yet still needs a little support of county funds. Processing and selling the recyclable materials is profitable. But they also have regional drop off containers which they pay to be hauled to the MRF and that costs them too much.

The problem here is that the hauling costs of processed recycled materials to the wholesale buyer is substantial.


Fred Duckels 3 years, 3 months ago

If there is a buck to be made someone is going to make it. Recycling is PR and that's about it.


John Weibel 3 years, 3 months ago

The hauling costs here have the potential to not be so much. The old lettuce shack has a rail spur there. Figure out some way to fill containers, and load them onto rail cars and the freight costs are greatly reduced. You could even get the Eagle county recycling materials to go through the hub and shipped to a California port to be shipped back to China on an empty ship to be reprocessed if it could not be done here.

Just need someone with a desire to figure it out. The lettuce shack is almost free, with a new lease being negotiated with the RR. That could be a a boost to the town of Yampa.

From the Rotary talk years ago in Longmont, the boulder county recylcing program gets paid good money for all the brown bottles which go to coors. The cardboard was a money maker, just need a baler to bale the cardboard. The region, including Eagle county could probably make something work better, especially if the Inmates are the laborers doing the sorting, by shipping material out via rail car as opposed to trucking the stuff.


mark hartless 3 years, 3 months ago

...and if the landfill fees are too high just throw it into Oak Creek Canyon.


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