Steamboat says education, outreach one way to fix its recycling problem |

Steamboat says education, outreach one way to fix its recycling problem

Several glass bottles sit inside of a recycling bin.
John F. Russell/Steamboat PIlot & Today

Steamboat Springs is hoping to implement several procedures to improve the city’s recycling practices, which several recycling advocates say are less than ideal.

The city hired LBA Associates, Inc. — a Denver-based environmental consulting firm that works with local governments to help identify problems and make suggestions for their recycling programs — to study Steamboat’s problems and help the city improve.

The consultant identified several main issue to be solved: increased hauler reporting requirements to ensure that everything thrown in a recycling bin that can be recycled is actually being recycled, residential pay-as-you-throw programs, mandatory recycling for multi-family condo and apartment units, mandatory recycling for commercial businesses, a partnership between the city, Routt County and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council for a county-wide recycling drop-off facility, changing the city’s code to require recycling in new buildings, and more public education and outreach.

When they discussed the issue at their Tuesday, Feb. 1, meeting, council members shared varying opinions on most of the suggestions, but all agreed that more public outreach about what can be recycled and where to recycle it is desperately needed.

“This is a community that prides itself on sustainability and on care for the outdoors, and yet, we don’t recycle properly,” said council member Joella West. “I think if we don’t do anything else, and we spend some money on public outreach and education, we’re going to make some in-roads.”

Laura Bacheldor Adams, the consultant who presented the study, told council members that mandatory quarterly hauler reporting would help community members trust that their recyclables are not being thrown in a landfill.

For the last several years, Bacheldor Adams said none of the haulers licensed to operate in the city have reported weight data and details on trash and recycling separation.

“People who are recycling need to be confident that it’s being handled correctly and that materials are being handled ant not just put into the landfill,” said council member Gail Garey.

Garey said some of the reason items in a recycling bin would eventually be put into a landfill is because they are not proper recyclables, which is where better public education about what can and cannot be recycled would come in.

“We do need to do more education about what can be recycled, specifically as it relates to plastic,” Garey said.

Council members shared different views on the pay-as-you-throw idea, which would require haulers to provide volume-based trash fees, with variable pricing for bundled trash and recycling to residents.

Garey and council member Dakotah McGinlay felt pay-as-you-throw could encourage people to recycle or reuse items themselves, as to avoid a trash fee.

“I think it’s an effective tool in terms of increasing recycling rates,” Garey said. “Pay-as-you-throw is effective, it’s proven and I’m not sure what other mechanisms or implementation aspects are out there in terms of meeting our climate action goals that have been set forth.”

Other council members felt pay-as-you-throw could be a better conversation to have several years down the road, but would bring too much chaos now, as the city’s code is requiring trash haulers to upgrade all waste bins to be wildlife-proof by 2023, so the city would need to act quickly.

Still, McGinlay and Garey felt now was the time to implement pay-as-you-throw, as the climate crisis continues to worsen, and actions should be taken now, rather than later.

“I think for offering pay-as-you-throw, there wouldn’t be a better time than now,” McGinlay said.

Council members also shared differing views on mandatory recycling at multi-family units and for businesses.

“We have businesses struggling so hard to stay in business and struggling so hard to find and keep the employees that are there right now,” West said. “That’s without tasking them with additional work, no matter how worthy it is.”

As for multi-family recycling, other members said some complexes do not have the space for such an operation, and many low-income residents may not be able to afford the cost of added recycling pickup.

City staff will move forward on better outreach, mandatory recycling for special events and working on other solutions.

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