Report: Local government investment important to meet waste diversion goals |

Report: Local government investment important to meet waste diversion goals

Routt County Climate Action Plan has goal to divert 85% of waste by 2050

Three Steamboat Springs restaurants have signed on to participate in a composting pilot project that has diverted 1,308 gallons of food waste so far.
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Increasing the ability to divert organic material from landfills in Routt County will be vital to meet local climate goals, and meaningful change may require government involvement, according to a study commissioned by Routt County and Steamboat Springs.

The study’s findings show Routt County is behind other mountain communities in terms of waste diversion, and local governments are doing little to spur more options for locals to compost organic waste.

“It’s in our experience that organics recovery will not grow significantly — you will not get composting or any of these things happening — without the government taking a more active role,” said Peter Engel, a project manager with Kessler Consulting Inc., one of the firms behind the study.

Just 9% of waste in Routt County is currently being diverted away from a landfill, which is low compared to the 38% diversion rate in Pitkin County and 30% in Eagle County. The 9% mark is well below the goal of 85% waste diversion by 2050 laid out in the Routt County Climate Action Plan. Another goal in the plan is to reduce 69% of greenhouse emissions in the waste sector.

Engel’s firm, which partnered with Denver-based environmental consulting firm LBA Associates Inc., focuses on organics, recycling and solid waste management for governments across Colorado. Both firms also worked on Steamboat’s recycling study that was presented to City Council earlier this year.

Engel said recycling organics comes in three main forms: food, yard and wood waste. The study found Routt County does really well when it comes to wood waste by diverting more than 75%, but a vast majority of food and yard waste is landfilled.

“Food and yard waste … those are your primary opportunities to increase recovery,” Engel said.

The best way to prevent food waste is to feed more people, Engel said. This is primarily being done through LiftUp Routt County, but is limited because a lot of food waste isn’t edible.

However, food waste can also be used to feed animals, and there are partnerships locally where ranchers use grain from the brewing or distilling process to feed animals. Engel said there are opportunities to expand both of these practices.

But the biggest “bang for your buck” would come from a more robust composting program, Engel said. There are two operations locally: Cowgirl Compost of Colorado and Twin Environmental.

“Each is serving somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 residents and a small segment of the business community as well,” Engel said.

However, in total, fewer than two acres are devoted to turning this waste into compost.

Yard waste diversion is even more limited, according to Engel. Other than a Christmas tree recycling program and some fall cleanup initiatives, most of the yard waste generated locally is landfilled, the study showed.

Overall, public awareness about organic waste diversion options is low, Engel said. The county also lacks incentives to coax an increase in waste diversion and mandates that would compel it. Capacity is also limited in the two local facilities.

Still, Engel and Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said the county has a strong foundation to improve waste diversion through the Climate Action Plan Collaborative Board. The lowest hanging fruit would be to focus on the largest waste producers first.

“Our focus when we look at organics is going to be much more the big food waste generators — the restaurants, hotels, motels, grocery stores and, to a smaller extent, school cafeterias,” said Laura Bacheldor Adams of LBA Associates.

Sarah Jones, director of Sustainability and Community Engagement for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. and a member of the climate collaborative, said the resort is working to increase its waste diversion capabilities. It won’t be completed until next summer and will only divert the resort’s food waste, but Jones said that is still a significant amount of waste, and it will only increase as improvements at the base area are completed. 

The report lays out other recommendations, ranging from increasing public outreach about organic waste diversion options to local governments investing in a drop-off center to expand those options.

The county could also explore a mandate of some kind, though there are currently no requirements to recycle in the unincorporated county, let alone divert organic waste.

“It seems clear to me that this isn’t going to be Routt County going out and doing whatever,” Commissioner Beth Melton said. “That wouldn’t make a lot of sense without working in partnership.”

Steamboat City Council is set to get a similar presentation about the report next week.

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