Recycling and diversion operations facing serious budget crunch; new licensing requirements for trash haulers could “stem the bleeding”
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Facing dwindling revenues at the landfill, Summit County may set up a licensing program for trash haulers and enact so-called flow-control measures that would make it illegal for haulers to ship waste out of the county.
The landfill portion of the solid waste program is self-supporting, but the recycling operation can’t function without a $400,000 annual subsidy from the landfill. The entire program has seen its budget cut from $4.7 million down to $3.8 million per year.
Assistant county manager Thad Noll said that more and more trash is being sent to the Front Range, where landfills can charge less because they’re not supporting diversion programs like electronics collection, household hazardous waste and recycling.
“Zero waste doesn’t mean taking the trash somewhere else,” Noll said, referring to the county’s stated policy goal of reducing the overall waste stream.
From a 2007 high of 62,000 tons, generating $4.1 million in revenues, the amount of solid waste coming into the landfill has dropped to 42,000 tons currently, generating $3 million annually. The downturn in construction activity, which has cut what was used to be a significant portion of the solid waste in Summit County, is a key factor in the drop.
The long-term paradox is that, by design, the county is funding recycling and diversion programs with revenues from trash tipping fees — while simultaneously developing programs to reduce trash.
That probably isn’t sustainable in the long run, Noll said.
The proposed flow control measures won’t solve the long-term structural problem, which may require re-thinking how the county operates the landfill, recycling and diversion facilities.
But it could stop the bleeding in the short-term, according to a county memo that outlines the issues.
For now, the county is seeking support from town governments for an ordinance requiring all trash haulers to obtain a license.
“The license would serve as a simple but effective enforcement mechanism so that a violation of the flow control ordinance could result in a license revocation,” the memo states.
The flow-control ordinance could benefit some locally based haulers who don’t truck their garbage out of the county, but could increase costs for others.
The Summit County landfill is the most expensive in the state, according to Larry Romine, co-owner of Timberline Disposal, who said that flow-control efforts have proven obsolete in other jurisdictions.
Romine said the county might have to rethink the overall operations of the landfill and recycling facilities for the long-term.
“Like any other business, maybe they need to make some cuts or charge more,” Romine said. “People have to understand, it costs to be green,” he said, suggesting that, if recycling can’t pay it’s own way, perhaps there should be a charge for recycling services.