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Recycling is growing, but so are SW Colorado landfills

Southwest Coloradans produce 5.9 pounds of trash each per day

Even though recycling is on the rise regionally, consumers in Southwest Colorado are sending more trash to landfills than they were in 2007.

For example, WCA Waste, which operates the Bondad Landfill, has seen an almost 7 percent increase from 243,487 cubic yards of garbage in 2007 to 260,528 in 2015, according to the Southwest Colorado Index Report.

“There’s definitely room for improvement,” said Donna Graves, who helped edit the report for Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado.

On average, each person in Southwest Colorado is producing 5.9 pounds of trash a day, which is a more than a third higher than the national average of 4.4 pounds per day.

However, recycling programs in both Cortez and Durango have seen a boost in participation.

Cortez has improved collection, diverting 687,655 pounds in 2007 and 855,690 pounds in 2015. Plastic recycling began last year in Cortez.

These facilities have increased collections even though revenues from the sales of plastics, metals and other recyclables have fallen sharply. These declines and a volatile market has made it hard for haulers to budget, but it may be positive in the long term, said Juri Freeman, president of the Colorado Association for Recycling.

“I think it will make recyclers more efficient,” he said.

While facilities are collecting more materials, the region as a whole is diverting only 14 percent of the materials that could be recycled.

Organic materials make up 37 percent of what is hauled to landfills locally, according to an audit by the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments.

While many municipal landfills don’t compost, the Montezuma County Landfill has seen success composting yard and human waste for a little over a year, and it plans to expand into food waste next year, said Shak Power, the landfill manager.

Food-waste produces both methane and leachate, the liquid that can accumulate at the bottom of a landfill.

“If you don’t produce any leachate because you keep the organics out, you are one step further ahead,” Powers said.

He expects to target supermarkets and casinos because they are the biggest producers of food waste. The Durango Recycling Center diverted 19 million pounds in 2015, up from 7 million pounds in 2006. In addition to serving La Plata County, the center takes material from private companies in Montezuma and Archuleta counties.

The city of Durango’s single-stream collection has helped keep more material out of the landfill, Graves said.

“Durango has really made it simple to recycle,” she said.

In Durango, David Golden recently launched Table to Farm Compost, and his business could potentially divert about 100 cubic yards of material from about 400 households.

But Golden expects it may take time to attract that many customers.

“We have room to grow for sure. ... We’re not diverting tons of food waste, but some,” he said.

Fort Lewis College has diverted between 45 to 50 tons of food from the Student Union annually over the last three years, said Rachel Landis, coordinator of the environmental center.

At this point, the composter cannot handle more food annually, but the college is still throwing food away.

To further reduce waste, the college plans to work with Sodexo, the college’s food service provider, to meet student demand without producing excess, she said.


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