Recycling isn’t cheap, and Durango is paying for it.
The city is asking La Plata County for $60,000 to help cover operational costs at its Recycle Center, and even though 83 percent of Durango households pay for curbside recycling pickup, it is not enough alone to cover the program’s expenses.
Curbside recycling serves only city residents; La Plata County residents are able to take their recyclables to the Durango Recycle Center, 710 Tech Center Drive, and drop them off.
Mary Beth Miles, assistant to the city manager, said the labor costs for the Recycle Center’s employees, who collect and process materials for county residents, exceeds the revenues collected from the $1 cost per 60 gallons of material.
City residents subsidize the cost of drop-off operations at the Recycle Center through the $19-a-month fee they pay for trash pickup and the $3-a-month fee for curbside recycling.
Durango collects between $100 and $140 a week from county residents who use the drop-off site, which amounts to only a small percentage of revenue for the Recycle Center and isn’t enough to cover employee labor, said Joey Medina, recycle and trash manager.
In August, the city calculated the recycling program is operating at a $20,000 deficit, which is the result of drop-off services offered to county residents.
However, Roy Petersen, director of city operations, said the deficit has increased to about $32,000 because of staff turnover and cost of labor changes at the Recycle Center.
Trash pickup helps subsidize the city’s recycling costs, Petersen said. Without the support of trash-pickup fees, the recycling-collection program would operate at a $50,795 deficit, he said.
If the city doubled the $3 fee for curbside pickup, the recycling program would pay for itself, Petersen said. But the city wants to retain customers, so it has no intention of pursuing an increase.
Durango estimates a total revenue of $377,500 from recycling-collection services in 2014.
In Durango’s 2014 budget, the city allotted $2,147,626 to sustainable services, which account for trash and recycling, Miles said. Durango’s total 2014 budget is a little more than $63 million, she said.
Asking for help
City officials are requesting $60,000 from the county to cover operational costs at the Recycle Center.
Miles said the center needs the $60,000 just to operate the county drop-off location.
The city’s request that the county pitch in is being handled through the budgeting process, said La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff. The county has not reached a decision. A final budget is expected to be adopted by Dec. 15, she said.
The county board of commissioners will hold a public planning meeting at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the commissioners’ meeting room to listen to residents’ budget concerns.
Revenue from recyclables
The Recycle Center generates some revenue from its recyclables.
The facility accepts glass, but it’s not included in the single-stream recycling service, and glass must be dropped off in person, Miles said.
Collecting glass separately allows the city to sell the material as a higher priced commodity, she said.
Medina was unable to disclose the income the city receives for glass, saying “the market fluctuates” and the value of the materials vary.
Marjorie Griek, executive director of the Colorado Association for Recycling, said the market for glass ranges between $15 to $50 a ton. The color of the glass also affects the price.
For efficiency, the facility stockpiles glass, generating enough material for a single shipment. Medina said a glass shipment hasn’t been made in several months.
A ballpark estimate on how much the center receives for its single-stream recyclables is about $2 per ton, Medina said.
Every week, the center ships between 44 tons and 66 tons of material to processing facilities out of state.
Durango would like to increase the number of commercial participants in the recycling program. In 2013, the center serviced 359 commercial businesses. The city projected this number to increase by 41 businesses through 2014. Single-stream recycling rates for businesses vary depending on amount of material, container size and number of collection days per week.
The main purpose of adding commercial businesses is to keep waste out of the landfill, Miles said.
A regional effort
The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments is working on making recycling more readily available for rural areas in the Southwest, and it is taking a regional approach to include obtaining recycling services for residents in La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties, Westendorff said.
The county operates two drop-off recycling locations, one in Bayfield and one in Marvel, free of charge.
If county residents want curbside recycling, they must use the services of a private company such as Phoenix Recycling.
The city and the county have agreed to work together in providing hazardous waste disposal for all La Plata County residents, including Durango residents.
Earlier this month, the city and the county sponsored an all-day event called the 2014 Household Hazardous Waste Collection at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The event allowed residents to dispose of aerosols, vehicle batteries and other toxic waste. Fees were based on the amount waste.
“For some issues, it’s not cost effective to work separately,” Westendorff said.