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Local recycling faces challenges of supply and demand

Poor market, users’ habits put pressure on revenue
Maya Lindgren recycles at one of the Four Corners Recycling Initiative bins in Dolores.

A poor recyclables market and bad public habits are hurting the Four Corners Recycling Initiative.

Leaders hope community support will help them overcome financial challenges. More responsible use of the free service in Mancos, Cortez and Dolores also is needed, said Casey Simpson, president of Recycling Initiative.

“We’re getting less revenue, but more and more people are using our centers,” he said.

In the past, the market, grants and financial donations have kept up with the demand to empty the bins, which run more than $100 each.

The Catch-22 now is that while increased public participation in recycling is good, the selling price for cardboard, paper, metal and plastic is down, meaning there isn’t enough revenue to pay for additional bin service.

“The result is stations get overwhelmed,” Simpson said.

The wrong recyclable or regular trash is contaminating bins designated for each type of recyclable material, which leads to increased costs of separating it, he said.

When there is not enough room, people are misplacing recyclables causing contamination, or dropping them next to the bins, creating an eyesore and leaving them susceptible wind and foraging animals.

“We are asking the public that if they want free recycling service, please be flexible and come back another time if you get to a drop-off center and the bins are full,” Simpson said.

Extra care by bin users will help keep different recyclables separated and free of regular trash, “so we get the best quality and best price,” he said.

“If a load is too contaminated, the whole thing is thrown away into the landfill instead of being recycled,” he said.

The city of Cortez has a recycling service for residents, and private companies offer a curbside pickup in the county for a fee.

The Recycling Initiative’s drop-off station on the Mancos school campus has been hit especially hard. The Mancos Town Board and school officials have heard complaints about overflowing trash.

Simpson said recycling staff are working with the school and town to solve the problem, including fundraising and public education to help provide more service.

In 2016, the organization’s Dolores station was moved because of similar issues.

The all-volunteer Recycling Initiative manages the nonprofit business and works to clean up the centers. Students at Southwest Open School also help out with the program as part of a class.

The Recycling Initiative also works closely with Montezuma County, which has made recycling a priority at the landfill.

China’s recently announced ban of foreign recyclables is expected to further hurt prices because it has been the world’s largest importer of scrap material. Without China as a buyer, the U.S. recyclable market will faces a glut of recyclables. At the same time, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is issuing new rules for recyclers.

“This combination presents us with unique challenges and opportunities,” said landfill manager Shak Powers. “I am expecting we will see prices slump dramatically. We need to work as a team and come up with the most equitable solutions for each party involved.”

In 2015, the county landfill adopted a hybrid single-stream system, whereby residents divide paper, tin and plastic into separate bags and tie cardboard into bundles. The landfill separates each commodity into compressed bales, then loads them onto trucks for buyers. The first year, revenues covered the costs of baling and labor, and the program broke even.

The county and recycle organizations recently met to come up with a strategy on sustaining the programs.

For more information on the Four Corners Recycling Initiative and to donate, go to its website at 4cornersrecycles.org


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