Steamboat Springs Planning Commission voices concerns about business of recycling

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— The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission held a work session Jan. 23 to discuss a draft of new regulations for recycling facilities in town.

The conversation surrounding recycling options in Routt County has been ignited by a code enforcement against a metal recycler west of downtown and a new $5 fee for noncustomers to drop of recyclable materials at Waste Management.

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 city’s code now lumps all recycling activity into one category regardless of whether it’s a processing facility or just a drop off. The existing restrictions placed on recycling are so limiting that the Green Machine that sits in the Safeway parking lot on weekends is illegal.

The Steamboat Springs City Council directed Planning Department staff to come up with new definitions that better reflect the differences between types of recycling facilities, such that a drop off wouldn’t be expected to meet the same standard as a processing facility such as Waste Management’s.

The Planning Commission worked through draft language for new recycling definitions and criteria Jan. 23, and member Brian Hanlen pointed out early that the draft still effectively would disqualify the Green Machine from using the Safeway parking lot.

Planning Commission members cited stormwater runoff requirements as an example of criteria that was well-intentioned in protecting the environment from unintended consequences but also could prove too financially onerous for the business model of recycling.

“I think what staff drafted here is exactly what I would like to see a recycling facility look like,” Planning Commission member Charlie MacArthur said. “But I think it’s important for Katherine (Meyer) and everyone else involved to recognize that this does effectively end the Green Machine, and it would be irresponsible of the city, if adopted, not to enforce this and end at that result.

“To that end, it’s not the city’s role to pick winner and losers in the recycling facility, but it is their role to look at this and realize that what we’ve been doing right now is kind of recycling in spite of the environment with the popularity of the Green Machine.”

Members of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Yampa Valley Recycles were present Jan. 23 along with the owner of the Copper Magnate, Montie Mehsling, and a consultant for the business, Betsy Foos.

Catherine Carson and Garrett Smith, with YVSC, said their organization is looking into a feasibility study to explore different recycling options.

Emilie Rogers, of YVR, said the scope of work for the study could be ready soon, but the full study was estimated by Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf to possibly take six months after the scope is completed.

Carson said the hope is to keep the Green Machine in place until the study is complete, and that the machines are so popular that they’re overused.

“We’re proud of the success of the Green Machine,” Zopf said. “It is providing a great public service. We really didn’t have an exit strategy when that facility began operation in about 2007. So the attempt there was to expand recycling, but the group really didn't think, 'What do we do now?’

“That’s where that effort is focused at this point.”

Mehsling said he felt left out of the process despite the code enforcement against his business being part of the impetus for discussion with the city.

“There is such a focus on" the Green Machine, Foos said. “What about the rest of this recycling community: the batteries, the electronics and the metal?

“The Green Machine, as useful as it is, there are other options.”

Carson pointed out that companies that offer curbside trash pickup to single-family homes and duplexes in Steamboat Springs are required to also include recycling pickup in the same quoted price.

“My concern is are we putting recycling out of business?” Planning Commission member Kathi Meyer said. “Recycling is not just five items you put on your sidewalk. It’s a whole gamut of things.”

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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Comments

Scott Wedel 7 months, 2 weeks ago

This is a perfect example of how government regulations can easily be absurd.

A business can use a dumpster without any special concern from the planning dept. But a dumpster placed where it can be accessed by the public for recycling becomes subject to planning dept approvals with all sorts of concerns.

A construction dumpster is subject to different rules than a recycling dumpster and so on.

I think the Green Machine is a needlessly expensive method of recycling, but for City Planning to have different rules for dumpsters based upon whether it is for trash, construction or recycling is crazy.

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