City elections, recycling not all smoke and mirrors


City elections, recycling not all smoke and mirrors

We’re familiar with puffs of white smoke proclaiming the election of a new pope. So here’s my question: Does the city of Durango have some sort of similar combustion-based signal to communicate when the new City Council is chosen? Sign me, Cardinal Sin

Unlike the Sistine Chapel, City Hall lacks a fireplace – though rumor has it that the reinstated La Plata Electric Association franchise fee will provide the city with ample funds to install wood-burning stoves in each office. Presumably, this is being done to offset the soaring cost of LPEA electric heating.

Chimney issues notwithstanding, City Clerk Amy Phillips never would burn ballots as the cardinals do after each pontiff poll.

Amy has to hold on to Durango’s ballots for a long time. “By law, we have to retain ballots for 26 months after the election,” she said. “We won’t be burning anything.”

That doesn’t mean the city couldn’t consider a conflagration proclamation.

Why not ask the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to create white smoke on April 3, the day after municipal elections?

There’s a problem with that – the train normally billows black smoke. However, it could adopt the Vatican’s practice of adding chemicals to produce the appropriate-colored exhaust.

According to several reports, fire-tenders at the Sistine Chapel sprinkle potassium chlorate, lactose and pine resin on the burning ballots to ensure milky white smoke wafts over St. Peter’s Square. (To create black, they use potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulphur.)

However, white smoke wafting through downtown and along the Animas River Trail might be mistaken as originating from cigarettes. And because the city banned tobacco-burning in public places, this might cause consternation.

There’s always the smoke-free option. The city could signal the election of a new council by draping white single-use plastic bags on the Florida Road roundabout bike sculptures.

That might not work, either, given local government’s keen interest in banning petroleum-based shopping sacks.


They did it again. Two city workers went through my single-stream recycling container before the big truck arrived. Are they really going to do this all the time? What a waste, what inefficiency! As if a small mistake now and then will mess up the whole process! Recycling advocates are careful anyway. They want to do the right thing. – Roman

The city is inspecting recycling precisely because people aren’t careful – despite the city’s sorting motto, “Do the right things.” More than a few of us include impudent impedimenta in curbside containers.

Durango’s blue barrels brim with plastic films, Styrofoam and glass, all of which the city doesn’t recycle under the new single-stream system.

Sadly, one “small mistake” does mess up the process.

“If the recycling truck picks up a blue container that contains glass or any of the other stuff we don’t recycle, we have to throw the entire truckload contents away. It’s contaminated and therefore useless,” said a city worker who didn’t want to be named.

“It’s a big problem, but it can be solved with education over time.”

The “precycling” inspection crews want to make sure inappropriate items are excluded.

Say you break a mirror and put it in your blue container. Not only would you have seven years of bad luck, but your recycling will be reprimanded.

“When we see stuff like glass in a container, we tag the container, note what was wrong and ask the owner to go through the recycling before we pick it up the next week,” the city worker said.

Inspectors will preemptively poke around until recyclers follow the guidelines, which can be found at

So put your left hand on the blue container, then raise your right hand and repeat: “I ain’t gonna taint.”

That ought to work.

On second thought, maybe the inspectors could keep patrolling for a couple more months.

Email questions to or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can request anonymity if you mention to those guys down the street that the city no longer picks up recycling left out in the rectangular blue bins so they need to stop setting it out on trash day.

City elections, recycling not all smoke and mirrors

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