Basalt, Pitkin County won’t subsidize recycling center in 2020

Pitkin County and Basalt will stop funding a well-used public drop-off recycling center next year.

The two governments contributed $30,000 each to subsidize the facility in Basalt this year, according to Basalt officials.

“Pitkin County (has) put the town on notice that it would no longer provide matching funds in 2020,” Basalt staff told the Town Council in a recent memo. “Staff and the Green Team decided that the town did not have the $60,000 needed to support the program on its own.”

The Green Team is a citizen volunteer board that advises the council on environmental matters.

“We just couldn’t pick up the whole nut,” Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said.

The private firm Waste Management operates the Basalt recycling center. A Waste Management spokeswoman said the company only recently received notice that the governments won’t contribute to the operations starting in 2020. Company officials haven’t decided yet what will happen to the center come Jan. 1, she said.

Waste Management has refused to operate the center on its own dime in the past. The company told Basalt officials in 2015 that it would have to close the facility if there was no financial aid. Basalt and Pitkin County agreed to split the expense.

The recycling center used to be located near downtown Basalt but was relocated in 2014 to a recycling material transfer site operated by Waste Management in the Basalt Design and Industrial Center close to Willits.

The county’s design to stop contributing to operation of the center in Basalt is part of its broader strategy to stop subsidizing recycling. That decision has ripple effects from Aspen to Redstone.

The county commissioners approved an ordinance in fall 2018 to make curbside recycling pick-up mandatory for trash haulers and a recycling fee mandatory for households. At the same time, it decided to phase out subsidies for recycling at the Rio Grande center in Aspen and the Basalt facility and stop assisting in Redstone. The county also ended subsidies to the Snowmass Village program.

Due to its location in Basalt, the recycling center serves residents beyond the borders of Basalt and Pitkin County. Residents in unincorporated Eagle and Garfield counties also use it.

Trash haulers provide curbside recycling for a fee in Basalt, Eagle and Garfield counties, but it’s unknown if homeowners will pay the fee or just stop recycling if the Basalt center is closed.

“I imagine a lot of people will stop (recycling),” said Pitkin County solid waste manager Cathy Hall. She noted that Pitkin County landfill accepts household recyclable materials for free.

Waste Management has little financial incentive to keep operating the public drop-off facility in Basalt without a subsidy. The prices paid for recyclable materials are low while transportation costs are high.

Hall said there is hope that recycling will become more financial feasible within a couple of years.

“Everybody feels the markets are going to bounce back,” she said. “We’re going to sit tight and ride it out.”

In other words, Pitkin County will continue to encourage recycling despite the unfavorable economics.

Meanwhile, Basalt will use the $30,000 it used to subsidize Waste Management’s recycling facility on other environmental initiatives.

“To help divert yard waste from the Pitkin County landfill, the Green Team is proposing to host two lawn/yard drop-off events a month for five consecutive months, May through October,” said the staff memo to the council. The organic matter will be composted.

Mahoney said the town also supports a Green Team proposal for Basalt to host an electronic waste-recycling event. It would be subsidized but people turning in electronics also would pay a small fee.

Waste Management said the Basalt recycling center will operate as usual through the end of this year. It will inform the public about any potential changes in 2020 due to the loss of the subsidy.