Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a $4 million grant award for the construction of a new recycling center and waste transfer station in Chaffee County. The award moves the county closer to the dream of a new recycling center and waste transfer station. This will not happen overnight – but now it is possible to say “this WILL happen.”
The EPA Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) grant award to Chaffee County Government will support the design, engineering, and construction of a permanent waste transfer station and recycling center in Chaffee County.
“Recycling and responsible waste management are important issues for our whole community, and they have continued to be top priorities for our County leadership team as well,” said Chaffee County Deputy County Administrator Beth Helmke.
“We have been working diligently over the past several years to identify and pursue long-term solutions to improve our local waste diversion and overcome historical challenges with recycling,” she added. “This significant funding from the EPA SWIFR grant affords us an incredible opportunity to finally build a permanent facility that supports recycling programs and helps optimize Chaffee County’s waste diversion infrastructure and sustainability systems.”
The EPA’s SWIFR program, funded through the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, aims to improve local post-consumer materials management programs, including municipal recycling, and help communities make improvements to their local waste management systems. Chaffee County’s SWIFR grant submission proposed constructing a permanent facility at the county landfill to centralize sorting and recovery of recyclable materials and organics and to improve solid waste trash compaction.
The county explains that it will work closely with the EPA Region 8 office staff and professional consultants to develop the site master design and engineering requirements, create operational plans, and establish program activation timelines for the project, as well as continue to collaborate with local waste haulers and other regional partners to ensure the facility will meet the community’s functional waste management needs long into the future.
The specific project details have yet to be established. But the preliminary multi-year implementation plan envisions a phased expansion of the facility to include a public drop-off center and eventually allow for the collection of specialized waste types, circular economy-based waste management technologies, and waste-to-energy systems.
County staff anticipate finalizing the grant award requirements and agreements with the EPA in the coming months after which time the County will commence with project scoping, site design, and facility construction through competitive bidding processes, likely to launch in early 2024. Preliminary estimates are that the project budget will total at least $5 million, though full cost projections have not yet been completed.
Once the new facility is in place, the County hopes to achieve at least a 50 percent reduction in the amount of divertible waste; which currently ends up in the landfill. Achieving this goal will be a combination of more accessible curbside recycling offerings, modernized infrastructure, and innovative technologies, improved materials separation and reduced contamination of recyclables, and more efficient materials transport.
“This grant award is a testament to the continued emphasis Chaffee County has placed on being responsible stewards of our beautiful natural environment in the Arkansas River Valley,” said County Commissioner Keith Baker. “We share immense gratitude to the many local partners and community members that have supported waste diversion initiatives over the years, and of course to the EPA for the generous funding that will allow us to enact local solutions to our global waste management challenges.”
“Recycling and waste diversion are an important part of our sustainable future and this grant is a big positive step in that direction,” adds County Commissioner P.T. Wood.
The County’s 2022 Waste Diversion Plan recommended a local transfer station and materials recovery facility to help scale up and sustain the recycling services available in Chaffee County as well as significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions currently associated with out-of-county transport of loose trash and non-compacted recyclable materials.
In addition to the broad environmental benefits that will be realized through a new transfer center, improving waste diversion rates and reducing the volume of materials dumped will extend the lifespan of the County landfill within its existing boundaries.
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and organic wastes constitute about 60 percent of wastes dumped in the Chaffee County landfill. An estimated 90 percent of that material is recyclable or compostable, but currently, only seven percent of that waste diversion potential is realized, based on findings of the County’s 2017-2019 waste audit.
In Chaffee’s 2021 recycling survey, 94 percent of respondents indicated that recycling is personally important to them. Community members cite inconvenience due to no public drop sites, lack of available service in many areas of the county, and expense as reasons they do not currently participate in recycling. The new county recycling facility is expected to address many of these concerns.
As a part of its long-range waste diversion strategies, Chaffee County has also been closely monitoring Colorado’s new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program, created in 2022 through the passage of HB22-1355. It requires companies in Colorado that sell products in packaging and paper products to fund a statewide recycling system to recycle those materials.
Chaffee County staff pursued the EPA SWIFR grant in anticipation of EPR funding to local governments being available beginning in early 2026, thus ensuring that the community would be ready to leverage the support and opportunities forthcoming through the statewide program.
Community members can find information on current waste diversion and recycling options within the county at www.garna.org/sustainability/. The County plans to partner with GARNA to share updates on the recycling center project as it develops, using that same website.
Editor’s note: The EPA Region 8 press release with more information on the SWIFR grant award is available at www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-awards-3995000-new-recycling-and-materials-recovery-facility-chaffee-county