Talking Green: Save money by recycling more |

Talking Green: Save money by recycling more

Winn Cowman
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The 2021 Routt County Climate Action Plan, adopted by the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County and towns of Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa set a goal of achieving 46% waste diverted from landfills by 2030.

According to the recently released 2022 city of Steamboat Springs Recycling Study by LBA Associates, Steamboat Springs’s current waste diversion rate is only 9%. As of 2014, the most recent data available, Routt County’s diversion rate was 13%. Our community needs to increase our recycling rates by five times if we are to achieve our climate goals. The magnitude of this required change demands that we rethink our recycling strategy.

The 2022 Study provides several timely recommendations for how to increase recycling, one of which is switching to a system known as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT). PAYT is proven as one of the most effective ways to increase residential recycling in over 7,500 U.S. communities. A PAYT system provides citizens the option to choose a trash bin size that fits their needs: as recycling increases, trash bin size decreases. The Recycle Study recommended three receptacle sizes: large (96-gallon), medium (64-gallon) and small (32-gallon)

Golden’s tagline explaining their PAYT program is: “It’s easy. The more you recycle, the more you save!” Our peer mountain ski communities — Vail, Aspen, Carbondale and Durango — use PAYT and have waste diversion rates nearly three times that of Steamboat Springs.

At present, our current waste management system enables our exceptionally low waste diversion rates, and does not incentivize recycling. It also rewards waste generation: those citizens who generate less trash subsidize the costs for those who generate more.

The system also does not give citizens an option to choose — everyone receives the same 96-gallon toter regardless of their behaviors and needs — and it limits opportunities for added recycling and compost services.

PAYT was not adopted by city council during the Feb. 1 meeting. Council will likely revisit this issue during their Feb. 15 meeting. Consider making your voice heard regarding this important issue by writing a letter to city council at

Though PAYT would be a new system in our community, it is not a novel system nationally or globally. It is a much needed first step to move ahead towards our Climate Action Plan goals.

Winn Cowman is the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s waste diversion director.

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