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Buena Vista’s Board of Trustees will hear a bit more on Tuesday night about a well-established fact: The vast majority of stuff that enters landfills – including Chaffee County’s – can be recycled or composted.

Dominique Naccarato, Executive Director of GARNA (Greater Arkansas River Nature Association), will provide an update on the organization’s 2020 waste diversion study as well as plans for 2021.

Chaffee County Landfill. Photo courtesy GARNA

In short, Chaffee County is not doing well when it comes to waste diversion. In 2018, the county generated 25,420 tons of waste, of which 2,058 tons were recycled or composted. The situation worsened in 2019, when 26,237 tons of waste were generated, with only 1,912 diverted.

The executive summary of the study points out that nearly 95 percent of Colorado’s waste could be recycled or composted. Breaking that down, 32 percent of trash (bottles, cans and paper) could be recycled; 37 percent could be composted, including grass clippings, food waste and clean wood; and 26 percent could be reused or recycled through specialized programs for textiles, construction materials and other bulky items.

The data for the report suggest that it may be possible for Chaffee County to achieve similar diversion rates if partnerships are formed with recyclers and businesses in Chaffee and other counties, and if more residents participate.

Looking at what went into the Chaffee County Landfill as of 2019, construction waste makes up 28 percent, concrete comprises an additional seven percent, and compacted trash is the mainstay, at 49 percent.

The latter category is the waste that gets picked up at people’s homes by waste service providers in addition to garbage from businesses and public buildings. The current study doesn’t assess the specific contents of compacted trash, but the Waste Optimization Regional Study conducted by the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) in 2017 reported that 79 percent of compacted trash (municipal solid waste) could have been recycled or composted.

In that study, 30 percent of the compacted trash was categorized as organics, while 28 percent was paper, 9 percent plastic, 9 percent metals, 3 percent glass, and 1 percent residue. In addition, hazardous waste comprised 21 percent of the total.

“Unfortunately, we also know that some of what enters the landfill includes banned and hazardous material,” according to GARNA’s waste audit report. “The waste audit conducted by the UAACOG found hazardous waste in every single bag that was sampled, and suggested as much as 21 percent of municipal waste contains special (such as e-waste and textiles) and hazardous waste.

“A few examples of common hazardous waste include antifreeze, car wax, furniture polish, cleaning solvents, paint, varnish, and some glues. Many lawn fertilizers and pesticides are also hazardous waste, as are household batteries, electronics, prescription medications and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, fluorescent light bulbs, and both nail polish and polish remover.

“These and other hazardous waste should never be put into Chaffee trash bins, because if they end up in the Chaffee Landfill, there’s a risk of them eating away liners and leaching into waterways. This includes the Gold Medal trout waters of the Upper Arkansas River.”

GARNA’s report provides five key recommendations:

  • Explore ways to divert compostable materials from the landfill.
  • Consider a “drop and swap” program where people can drop off items that are still usable by someone else. Disposal fees would still apply, but there would be no fee to pick up items.
  • Increase participation in recycling programs by making curbside recycling mandatory.
  • Explore ways to keep recyclable material flowing with the local economy, as opposed to sending them out of state.
  • Create a waste diversion plan for the county that sets realistic goals based on community needs.

For a complete agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, click here. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. and is accessible through Zoom. To participate in public comment or hearings, you must connect to the video conference: Password: 971317. Listen via phone at 1-301-715-8592. Meeting ID: 880 7504 8459. Password: 971317.