New recycling fee in Steamboat Springs puts pressure on the Green Machine | SteamboatToday.com

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.

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.

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"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 tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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