WESTERN SAN JUANS – The San Miguel Area Resource-Recovery Transfer Station, otherwise known as SMARTS Park, entered a new era this week, when its founder Jonathan Greenspan inked a deal with the City of Montrose that diverts all of the city’s residential recyclable items to the Ilium Valley-based nonprofit recycling center.
The agreement will help both entities reach their goals.
SMARTS Park needed more volume to be sustainable. Currently, it receives about 1,000 tons of combined material annually from the Town of Telluride, Mountain Village, unincorporated San Miguel County, Rico, Ames, Silverton and parts of Ouray County. Once Montrose comes on board at the beginning of 2013, that volume will triple – providing enough recyclable waste for the center to reach its optimal target of 4,000 to 5,000 tons.
Through the sale of repackaged materials, that’s enough to offset SMARTS Park’s annual operating expenses by about half.
Montrose, meanwhile, has been seeking a way to re-implement residential recycling since its former program was kicked to the curbside as a cost-cutting measure a year ago. Now, the city hopes it will actually save money by diverting a portion of its waste stream away from TS Landfill Corporation's Broad Canyon dump between Naturita and Nucla, where Montrose’s residential trash currently ends up, and into the SMARTS Park instead, which is happy to take recyclables for free.
“Montrose will be doing quite well because we will be avoiding a substantial cost for tipping fees and transfer fees,” Montrose City Councilor Bob Nicholson said.
The city should realize even more savings by virtue of the fact that the drive to Ilium Valley is 30 miles shorter than that to the West End.
Montrose’s former residential recycling program used a customer sorting system, in which residents separated their items into bins according to category at the curb. “It was a good system because the material was sorted well, but highly ineffective from a collection standpoint,” Nicholson said. That’s because more workers were needed to handle all those separate bins.
Moreover, Nicholson said, “We weren’t diverting much.” At best, somewhere between three and five percent of the city’s waste stream was diverted from landfills through the recycling program. A lot of residents seemed to be put off by the extra work involved in presorting.
The new system is more efficient for the city to operate, as well as being more user-friendly. All Montrose residents will be receiving 90-gallon recycling carts – green or blue for alternating streets – in which they can toss all their recyclable materials except glass for collection every other week. It’s called single-stream recycling, and according to Greenspan, it’s the trend in the industry.
The program begins in early January. The city has picked up the tab for the new carts, and residents will not see an increase in their trash fees for participating in the program.
The city is launching a public relations campaign, and distributing fact sheets about the new program to all residents, in hopes of getting high community buy-in.
“We are going to try to get everyone used to doing this,” Nicholson said. “It’s a much better ongoing solution that is affordable and produces better recycling. We are just trying to make it that much easier. I hate to use the term, but it really is a no brainer.”
From Montrose, the recyclable materials will be hauled by city workers to the SMARTS Park, where the waste stream is then hand-sorted and compacted for shipment to specialized recycling centers that are further afield. (Greenspan hopes to soon acquire a conveyor system to help facilitate the sorting process.)
Fibers and plastics eventually end up at the Rock-Tenn recycling center in Torrance, Calif. Glass gets carted to the Coors plant in Golden. Metal and aluminum head back to Recla Metal in Montrose. The center also accepts electronics, skis and ski boots, and latex paint cans, all of which are shipped to Colorado Springs. Compost and landscape materials are accepted, processed and sold onsite.
While the City of Montrose may be motivated at least partially by the bottom line in entering into the new deal with SMARTS Park, for Greenspan running the recycling facility is a matter of principle. He’s already sunk $3 million of his own money into it, and as he points out, it is not exactly a profit-driven industry.
In fact, he told The Watch, “There is not one recycle center in the West that is not subsidized by some sort of community dollars.” Except his.
The State of Colorado recently designated SMARTS Park as the southwest regional center for resource recovery. “The designation means quite a bit,” Greenspan said. “It’s now a go-to place for recycling in the region.” He hopes to soon score a contract with Cortez, as well.
Greenspan is also advocating for a better way to fund his facility, which costs about $650,000 annually to operate. Recently, he approached Telluride and Mountain Village elected officials, asking each to pony up $25,000 in budget allocations for 2013 to help purchase a new sorting station. Mountain Village flat out said “Sorry.” Telluride extended an offer of partial funding later in the year, depending on how the economy improves in first quarter of 2013. Greenspan hasn’t formally approached San Miguel County officials yet, but plans to hit them up as well.
Ultimately, Greenspan said, the long-term fix should come from a small consumption tax rather than a “very large bake sale” mentality. He proposes a .004 percent tax built into all sales in an as-yet-to-be-determined district. “The cost of our operations would be distributed among the entire community, as well as all the visitors we have here,” he said.
“If you spend $100 a week at with a .004% tax rate, it would cost you $19.20 a year to fund the recycling program. It’s not a whole lot of money.”
Greenspan insists that community funding of a comprehensive recycling program is simply the right thing to do.
“This is the easiest and best way to start eliminating and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint in our area,” he said. “It will help us improve our environment and become accountable for what happens to our waste stream.”