On the Road to a Zero Waste Cycle
by Martinique Davis
Jul 27, 2012 | 3555 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SMARTS PARK – Workers sorted through various recycled materials at the San Miguel Area Resource-Recovery Transfer Station on Tuesday. The facility, located in the Ilium Valley outside of Telluride, is the region’s first nonprofit recycling center. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
SMARTS PARK – Workers sorted through various recycled materials at the San Miguel Area Resource-Recovery Transfer Station on Tuesday. The facility, located in the Ilium Valley outside of Telluride, is the region’s first nonprofit recycling center. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
STACKS of cardboard is ready to ship off at the San Miguel Area Resource-Recovery Transfer Station. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
STACKS of cardboard is ready to ship off at the San Miguel Area Resource-Recovery Transfer Station. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
Ilium Valley SMARTS Park Takes Recycling to the Next Level

TELLURIDE – Jonathan Greenspan stands before a mountain of mulch and a towering stack of aspen logs in the center of the bustling hub that is the San Miguel Area Resource-Recovery Transfer Station, or SMARTS Park.

Behind him, a crew of workers stand at a long table, sorting polycarts of comingled recyclables into larger dumpster containers, the contents of which will soon go into the compactor and, ultimately, to larger-scale recycling centers.

“I just started looking at it all and thinking, there’s got to be something [usable] here,” Greenspan says of the piles of refuse that surrounds him, shouting above the din of trucks unloading more loads of what might otherwise be headed to landfills as far as 80 miles away.

He’s speaking about the impetus behind the SMARTS Park, a new, nonprofit community recycling and resource-recovery center located in the Ilium Valley outside of Telluride. Since its unveiling in May as the region’s first nonprofit recycling center, the SMARTS Park has become a vital link in the region’s Zero Waste Action Plan, serving as a recycling hub for southwest Colorado and offering a local option for diverting reusable materials in the region’s waste stream.

“This answers a lot of questions about Zero Waste, our community’s carbon footprint and what we do with our waste stream,” Greenspan told Mountain Village Town Council at its meeting in May. Greenspan delivered similar updates to Telluride Town Council and the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners this spring, just as the SMARTS Park came online.

Since implementing residential and commercial recycling ordinances, the Town of Mountain Village has seen a 46 percent reduction in the amount of waste coming from its residential properties and going to landfill, reports Director of Environmental Services Deanna Drew. That diverted recyclable waste is going to the SMARTS Park.

According to Walter Wright, the Zero Waste coordinator for regional environmental group EcoAction Partners and a member of the recently formed Zero Waste Task Force, the SMARTS Park fills an important gap in the region’s overall Zero Waste picture.

As he explains, the SMARTS Park diverts items that would traditionally go to the landfill, but it also find new uses for those items. “So in addition to the environmental benefits, there’s an economic benefit,” he says of the repurposed products created at the SMARTS Park.

Greenspan,the nonprofit’s executive director as well as its creator, ran the Ilium-area recycling and resource-recovery center for the past seven years as a dimension of his for-profit business, SUNRISE. During that time, the park has proven itself a vital cog in the region’s waste-diversion wheel. In 2011, the operation diverted just under two million pounds of recyclable materials from the Broad Canyon Landfill outside of Naturita, thus preventing over 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalence from being released into the atmosphere.

“Having a place very close by where people can bring a variety of items that traditionally were difficult to find a final resting place for is pretty important,” says the Telluride Project Manager Karen Guglielmone, who is Telluride’s representative to the Zero Waste Task Force. She says having a regional transfer station and recycling center will bring the region a degree of accountability and credibility as it works towards its Zero Waste goals.

The SMARTS Park accepts materials from Dolores, San Juan, and Ouray counties, and parts of Montrose County, as well. The center currently accepts traditional recyclables including aluminum, tin/steel, cardboard, paperboard, mixed paper, glass, and plastics #1-#7; in addition to harder-to-recycle materials like electronics, latex paint, ski and snowboard equipment, metal appliances, wood pallets, tree waste, and yard waste (free of weeds or rocks).

After being sorted and compacted, tin and aluminum is sent to Recla Metals in Montrose; glass goes to a recycling center in Cortez; and cardboard, paper and plastics are shipped to the Rock-Tenn recycling center in Torrance, Cali.

Electronics are also sorted and packaged at the Ilium facility, and then sent to a facility in Colorado Springs. Latex paint is sent to Pueblo, while ski and snowboard equipment heads to Loveland, Colo.

Tree waste is turned into mulch on-site, while green waste is made into compost, both of which are then sold to the local community.

As the center grows, Greenspan anticipates the SMARTS Park will also be able to accept food waste (putting it into a food composting system, similar to the yard waste composting system currently used on-site), HAZMAT items, textiles, and construction debris.

Yet the growth of operations at the SMARTS Park will depend on the new nonprofit securing the necessary funding to keep up with the regional demand, Greenspan says.

By transferring the center’s operations to a nonprofit entity, the SMARTS Park is now eligible to accept tax-deductible donations, grants and even government-created “green” taxes, all of which could offset the center’s more than $700,000 in annual operating costs.

What’s more, it provides a mechanism for regional communities to address Zero Waste goals.

In 2008, San Miguel County and the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village adopted Zero Waste initiatives, modeled after a Zero Waste Action Plan created by leading Zero Waste consulting firm Gary Liss and Associates. The plan identified local resource recovery parks, like the one then being run by Greenspan’s company, as key components of a viable and functional Zero Waste system.

Yet as Greenspan is quick to point out, the Zero Waste system also includes another important component: community buy-in.

“These are progressive communities, looking for progressive ways to handle their waste,” says Greenspan. “All of the pieces are in place – except for the funding.”

With the new nonprofit status, Greenspan says the recycling center can now apply for funding through grants, in addition to offsetting its operating costs through fees collected from users and sales of materials. Yet he hopes local communities and governments will see the new SMARTS Park as more than just a place to dispose of their waste, and begin to see it as an important link in completing the Zero Waste cycle.

“To truly complete the Zero Waste cycle, it’s not just taking recyclable products to a resource recovery center, but also buying back the materials made at those resource recovery centers,” Greenspan explains. Some municipalities have ordinances that require certain percentages of recycled or locally sourced materials to be used in construction, backfill and other projects –  ordinances that could, if instated in communities served by the local recycling center, help stabilize the future of the SMARTS Park. The glass received at the center could be ground back into silica and used for concrete, for example.

Sitting just outside of the SMARTS Park office is an example of the full Zero Waste cycle, manifest in a concrete statue. The life-sized rooster was made out of beer bottles – 88 beer bottles, to be exact – which are now enjoying a second life as the SMARTS Park’s very appropriate mascot.

The SMARTS Park is located at 802 Vance Dr., on the Ilium Industrial Loop. It is open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, and will soon offer Saturday hours as well. Contact the SMARTS Park office at 970/728-0134 for more information.

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