Steamboat Springs to explore pay-as-you-throw trash program, but changes aren’t coming soon

City council directed staff to explore such a program over the next 18 to 24 months

Rick Melzer, an environmental health specialist with the Routt County Department of Environmental Health, sorts through trash at Aces High in 2017. Melzer was joined by others who were helping audit the trash collected in specific areas of Steamboat Springs as part of a waste composition audit.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, Steamboat Springs City Council directed staff to explore instituting a pay-as-you-throw system for trash collection, though actual changes to the current garbage situation are still likely two years away.

Pay as you throw is a method of trash collection aimed at reducing waste by charging customers based on how much they throw away, similar to how residents are charged for water usage.

The method often used to achieve this requires trash collectors to offer multiple sizes of bins with the large and medium-sized bins priced higher than what collectors charge for a small bin. When similar programs have been implemented around the state, more than half of residents have opted for a smaller trash can.

“The change in rate structure is mandatory, but what you decide to do is entirely up to you,” said City Council member Joella West during Tuesday’s work session. “I’m happy to keep talking about it and make sure we have all the information that we could possibly have, including how the haulers feel about it.”

Instituting a pay-as-you-throw system was one of the recommendations that came out of a recycling study commissioned by the city last year, but council initially chose not to pursue it. Now with a recycling coordinator in place, council members said they want city staff to work over the next 18 to 24 months on studying what a local program might look like.

Council member Eddie Briones said not having that position filled was one of the reasons he supported not pursuing such a program initially.

“We have one, so let’s pick it back up and continue conversations,” Briones said.

Winnie DelliQuadri, the city’s special projects and intergovernmental services manager, said instituting a pay-as-you-throw system is part of several efforts to divert more waste from landfills, which is a key goal in the Routt County Climate Action Plan.

While a mandatory commercial recycling ordinance — a proposal that City Council expects to revisit in February — could address trash diversion for businesses and multi-family living situations, and composting programs help with organics, a pay-as-you-throw system would apply to single-family homes and duplexes.

“Pay as you throw is not individually going to get us to 85% diversion because it addresses one part of the waste stream,” DelliQuadri said. “But it is a tool for one part of the waste stream.”

Haulers would also be required to offer recycling with such a program, which would have one can size and one flat rate. This would eventually be subsidized by funding out of state legislation passed last year that requires producers of packaging and paper to pay dues based on what they produce, which would be used to support residential recycling programs, among other things. Colorado is the third state to pass such a producer responsibility program.

A bear walks away after an unsuccesful attempt to get into a well-secured trash container Sunday morning, May 29, 2022 in the Fish Creek Mobile Home Park.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Another reason for hesitation with a new trash program is because it would require haulers to get new, different sized trash cans just as they are finishing rolling out bear-proof trash cans required by a 2020 council ordinance. Haulers are expected to have replaced all cans with a bear-proof variety by the end of March.

But council members indicated Tuesday that they didn’t think that should stop them from pursuing pay as you throw now, with a potential ordinance coming in two years. Council member Dakotah McGinlay suggested they could even use the same cans, but change pickup frequency.

“If we have two, to three years to work through it with the haulers, then we have plenty of time to figure that out,” Council President Robin Crossan said.

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