As Southwest Colorado’s population grows, the amount of trash generated could increase by 130 percent in the next nine years, a recent audit of area counties found.
Across the five-county region, residents produce an estimated 107,000 tons of waste, and only 13 percent is being recycled, according to the audit.
Local interns and volunteers helped sort 3,300 pounds of the region’s waste by hand to come up with the estimates this fall.
“It was the only way to know what was in our waste stream,” said Miriam Gillow-Wiles, executive director of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments.
To encourage recycling, the council will launch an awareness campaign in 2016. The council organizes collaborative projects for town and county governments across the region.
The new campaign will focus on what materials can be recycled and where to take them. It will be supported by a $15,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The council also plans to pursue other grants to fund the campaign.
The council decided to focus on public education because it does not require additional infrastructure and it was one of the main recommendations from the consultant who worked on the waste audit, Gillow-Wiles said.
“Elected officials hear all the time people want to recycle,” she said
But Gillow-Wiles understands why it might be tough for many because outside of communities with curbside pickup, it is inconvenient for residents to drop off their recyclables. They also typically have to pay a fee to offset the cost of storing, sorting and transporting recyclables outside the area.
The council also created a task force of local haulers and others involved in waste management to identify barriers to recycling and possible solutions.
The task force is helping with the educational campaign and also supporting Phoenix Recycling’s development of a local materials recovery facility. The La Plata County commissioners approved Phoenix Recycling’s proposal to build the private facility this fall, and once it is built it will help reduce the costs for transporting recyclables out of the area.
The task force also has talked about better ways to divert glass and tires, but finding solutions is proving challenging, Gillow-Wiles said.
Glass frequently contaminates other materials when it is included in single-stream programs and there are not many options for recycling old tires.