Chaffee County Approves 2022 Waste Diversion Plan – by Jan Wondra – The Ark Valley Voice

The 2022 Chaffee County Waste Diversion Plan was approved by the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) at their May 16 regular meeting.

The Waste Diversion Plan’s overarching goals are to reduce the amount of divertible waste entering landfills and to increase rates of recycling and composting across the community. The benefits of this approach are three-fold:  extending the lifespan of the County landfill, lowering carbon emissions, and sustaining local waste diversion initiatives for the long-term.

Roll off container at Salida Recycling Center. Photo by Merrell Bergin

The county has been in a transition since March, 2021, when Angel of Shavano Recycling notified the county that it was going out of the recycling business.  That left about four million pounds of recyclables with nowhere to go.

As has been pointed out many times, no one in county leadership wants to have to look for a new landfill site for a long time. As of April, 2021, Chaffee County Finance Director Dan Short said the county’s landfill has around 92 years of capacity remaining, based on current dumping and recycling rates. But county growth, and the current recycling uncertainties make solving this challenge a priority.

While two private haulers have added services, another composting solution Elements Composting has also begun to address the issue of diverting waste from the county’s landfill.

The county’s plan, developed over the past year through consultation with Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) whose contract runs until the end of June, 2022, contains guidance and prioritized recommendations. It does not bind the county or municipalities to any particular strategy or solution.

“When you think of the funding that could come our way…this is a planning grant application,” explained GARNA Executive Director Dominique Naccarato during the meeting. She referenced its usefulness as a record of the county’s commitment to working toward recycling goals as well as to support a grant application.

Photo by Sigmund. Courtesy of unsplash.

The county also continues to monitor HB22-1355, the recently passed state legislation known as the “Producer Responsibility Program For Recycling”, which, if signed into law by Governor Polis, is expected to help underwrite the costs of recycling services through fee-based funding from packaging producers and sellers.

“This study could take away the perceived or real roadblocks…so we don’t have this internal conflict,” added  Finance Director Dan Short. “It could be used to explain that we don’t have any choice but to do this.” He went on to add that “half the problem” faced by the county right now is that it has two private groups doing waste management and handling recycling, “that don’t want to work together.”

The Waste Diversion Plan identifies almost three dozen tactics to achieve its goals. The county is focusing on four of these priority areas for immediate evaluation:

  • Volume-based-pricing (VBP) models that incentivize curb-side recycling;
  • Local materials recovery facility (MRF) for collection and reuse of recyclable/repurposable materials;
  • Local transfer station for more efficient refuse management;
  • Targeted education campaigns for households and businesses.

In the coming months, the county will be investigating the feasibility of these recycling system improvements, researching associated grant funding opportunities for implementation, and then providing updates to the BoCC for consideration. Collaborations with local waste haulers, community partners, and the City of Salida, Town of Buena Vista, and Town of Poncha Springs will continue to be central to the county’s assessment of possible waste reduction approaches.

“Volume-based pricing is one way for the county to work with the waste haulers, to help implement the transfer station,” said Short. “It’s likely that with the legislative action – the whole state is going to want to increase our diversion rates, so it would be good to get ahead of the curve on that one. [If this is signed] Starting in 2025, the waste haulers are going to be reimbursed considerably for their recycling.”

Resources created through the Waste Diversion Plan project include the Recycling Guide found at bit.ly/ChaffeeRecycleGuide or garna.org/sustainability/.

The Plan itself, which also includes the results of local surveys and pilot composting studies, can be found at bit.ly/WasteDiversionPlan or on the County website at www.chaffeecounty.org/Landfill.