This year, during February’s cold, dark days, the city of Durango offered its residents a long-anticipated bright spot as it rolled out its new single-stream recycling service. In doing so, the city has responded to a demand for increased recycling opportunities and eased the process, all while reducing the amount of trash residents are amassing. There is little to dislike about the program.
What formerly was an exercise in precision waste management at the household level, where avid recyclers were required to separate glass, aluminum, paper and the limited plastic and cardboard recyclables that were accepted, it now is a virtual free-for-all for the sustainability-minded citizenry of Durango. Large blue bins can accommodate a smorgasbord of materials that previously were not on the city’s recycling menu, thanks to a new system that can process and bundle the goods for shipping to faraway sorting centers.
Each ton of dispatched recyclables fetches upward of $40 on the commodity market. Because of the new system, Durango already is sending almost three times as much material to that market and doing so by making the process easier for residents and city employees alike.
By expanding the list of acceptable items to include a wide range of plastics such as take-out containers, yogurt tubs and their ilk, as well as the ubiquitous paperboard that transports cereals, crackers, macaroni and cheese, and biscotti from manufacturers to consumers, the city has laid the foundation for recycling to become second nature. Instead of inspecting boxes for the telltale ridges that define corrugated cardboard, residents can send almost all of their cardboard to the big blue bin with nary a thought. Rather than scouring plastics to discern whether they are of the No. 1 or 2 variety, residents can rest relatively assured that the container in question is green-lit for recycling. Taking the guesswork – and busywork of sorting – out of the equation eliminates hurdles for reluctant recyclers.
The 60- and 90-gallon collection bins are a boon for city workers, too, who no longer must empty each resident’s carefully sorted recyclables in what certainly was a tedious, labor-intensive process. A large truck lifts and empties the bins a la garbage pickup and off it goes to the next container on the street.
The expanded program was not without cost. The city invested $1.6 million to update the recycling center with single-stream equipment, and curbside customers will pay $3 on their monthly utility bill for the service. That is hardly an onerous fee, especially considering how dramatically the program has improved as a result.
It is not perfect, though. Banned from curbside collection is glass of any kind, which now must be dropped off at one of the various collection centers around town. While that might be a minor inconvenience for dedicated recyclers, it is not sufficient to significantly offset the overall benefits of the new system. An occasional trip to Wagon Wheel Liquor, north City Market, Fort Lewis College or the Durango Recycle Center is an easily manageable errand for most recycling customers.
The city’s investment in the single-stream system was a wise and responsive one, and its benefits are many – to residents, employees and the broader environment.