|Environmental Coordinator, Pueblo City-County Health Dept. Susan Finzel-Aldred-the state of solid waste collection in Pueblo.
Ted prefaced Susan’s comments stating that waste collection has changed quite a bit in the last 50 years. Over 50 years ago there was backyard trash burning in what were known as ash pits. Jobs were provided for neighbors, friends and low income people who would go around cleaning out those ash pits for a fee and taking the burned residue to the dump. There were several dumps around town that had open burning About 1965 open burning of trash was banned in Colorado which created a lot of consternation in the town because of the change in the “culture” of how trash was disposed of. In the late 80s or early 90s, the City bought a landfill. Prior to this, there was discussion between the City and the County with the intent to locate a landfill south of Pueblo little Burnt Mill Road but the project did not “fly.” Dumping trash at the dump was free until a “tipping fee” of 10¢ per pickup load was charged. Another change which caused a lot of reaction in the Community. For years prior, there were a few small waste haulers who collected trash and took it to the dump in small packer trucks. In the early to mid 90s, it was recognized that solid waste, as a commodity, does have a value, and collecting it, could generate some income. Larger trucks and automation came on to the scene and most, if not all, of the smaller waste haulers were bought out. This is known as “consolidation.” A huge change in solid waste collection from about 1965 to 1995. However, Pueblo has a long way to go in order to catch up to the way solid waste is handled in the rest of the State and the Nation.
Susan stated that the Environmental Coordinator (EC) position came about in 1997/1998 as part of a larger Solid Waste Plan which outlined strategies Pueblo County could follow in order to get into the 21st Century, in terms of handling solid waste. It was determined there should be a position that would oversee and coordinate solid waste handling by providing education, encourage recycling and better waste collection. Susan asked Ted to outline how the EC position was funded, in the beginning.
There is a group of volunteers representing private industry, governments and concerned citizens. This group is known as the Environmental Policy Advisory Committee (EPAC). Twenty-two years ago there were 21 members, now it has dwindled down to about 11 members. EPAC obtained a grant from the State to fund the EC position and to do a “waste study” which led to the creation of the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan. EPAC was able to have adopted a Landfill User Fee of 25¢ per Cu. Yd. of waste disposed of at the dump. Later on, City Council increased the Fee to 50¢ per Cu. Yd. The Fee was intended to fund the EC position as well as other solid waste management plans and programs. Unfortunately, the funds go into the City’s General Fund, which, after some begging by the EC and the Health Dept., the City does allocate some money for the EC and its activities.
In addition to some funding from the City, the County kicks in funds and Susan writes grants for other funds. The EC can also apply for surcharge money paid by offenders who are fined for violating waste disposal rules, but this is a very small amount.
Susan informed the attendees that the landfill is managed by Waste Connections which also owns/operates a waste hauling business. The City requires that property owners dispose of their solid waste every 7 days. There are no “trash police.” But, about 80% of households in Pueblo have a subscription trash service with one of the 9 waste haulers licensed to collect trash in the City.
Recycling is only one part of being “environmentally friendly,” in addition to water conservation, car pooling, etc. The recycling symbol represents a “closed loop” where, for instance, a plastic bottle is produced, filled with water, disposed of with other plastic bottles, collected and returned to a business that can turn that plastic bottle into another product. The EC does education and outreach as well as waste collection events (neighborhood cleanups).
The EC’s 3 functions are: 1) environmental education and stormwater pollution prevention in collaboration with the City to prevent contamination of our water ways (Fountain Creek & Arkansas River) with solids and liquids as part of the City’s Stormwater Plan. The Plan is required by the EPA and enforced by the State Health Dept..
2) Solid waste education for all ages, in the schools and before community groups. Nationwide, each person generates about 4.5 lbs of waste per day; in Colorado it is a little higher. In Colorado, construction and demolition waste is included in the total. Susan monitors the waste numbers and publishes the Solid Waste Recycling Guide which was handed to all attendees. It is revised and updated 4 times per year and lists where different item can be taken for disposal. Whereas many people say there is no “recycling” in Pueblo, on the contrary, there is! The difference is that one has to be motivated to want to do it and transport items to those that will collect them. It comes down to Person Responsibility which also includes not being products with a lot of packaging that has to be disposed of. On top of that, there are not enough taxes paid to have a curbside collection of recyclable materials for everyone. There is no municipal waste collection dept. All waste hauling is done by the private sector. The “economics” of waste collection and disposal in Pueblo are different than in other parts of the State of the Nation.
In 2010, the EC obtained a huge grant to start a program of multiple drop-off sites (4) for some recyclables: one in Bessemer and three on Pueblo West. It was a”pilot program” to see to what extent citizens would participate and utilize the drop off bins. In order to collect the materials, a membership fee was required to join a Co-Op. The fee was $1 per capita or about $30K for Bessemer and about $30K for Pueblo West. However, citizens form all over town, and even the County, dropped off items. When the Grant ran out, the EC tried to obtain funds from the City, the County and other sources, but to no avail. The Co-Op really did want for Pueblo to participate because of the volume of materials collected. It is still in existence and serves the Upper Arkansas corridor, from Penrose to Salida.
[Ted pointed out that there is more than enough money generated by the Landfill User Fee that could be used to pay for the EC position and all of the activities she conducts and coordinates in addition to paying for the annual membership fee to the Co-Op. The problem is that the City is very reluctant to “dedicate” the Landfill User Funds for specific solid waste management programs.]
There are two haulers that offer curbside recyclable collection. However, there is a separate fee for the bin. Customers realize that once all of the glass and plastic bottles, cardboard, paperboard and other packaging is removed, there is much less trash. Yet, the fee is the same for having that trash collected and hauled away. Newspapers, only, can be dropped off at the bins behind the Chieftain building on 8th Street near the intersection with Craig Street.
Christmas trees can be dropped off the two weekends after New Year’s Eve for recycling. The trees are chipped. The chipped material is available for free on a first-come basis.
Every May there is a recyclable materials (tires, electronics, paint, appliances, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, oil) collection event at the Fairgrounds in the Midway area. The cost is about $35K. When funding is available (about $60K), collection of household hazardous waste if offered in addition to the items just listed. Over the years there have been 600-1,000 cars that come through at this annual event.
There are Neighborhood Cleanups in Bessemer, the Eastside, Hyde Park, Salt Creek, Avondale and Pueblo West. These are 1 day events. A voucher is purchased for $15 that allow the dumping of a pickup load of waste. (The cost at the landfill would be about $60.) Household trash is discouraged as this could be disposed of using a waste hauler. Each event costs about $6K.
The EC gets involved in coordinating the clean up along the Fountain Creek, from the Arkansas River north to west of CSU-Pueblo, in late September, called Creek Week. A 7 day effort involving more than 270 volunteers: such as Girls Scouts, Centennial H.S. service clubs, collecting 3.9 Tons of litter. There are other groups on the northern part of the Fountain Creek watershed in Security, Widefield, Colorado Springs, up to Palmer Lake and Woodland Park.
The EC bids out the providing of “roll offs.” The cost of a 40 cu. yd. roll off is $450. She stated for the Bessemer cleanup it required the use of 25 roll offs. While it has been suggested that a roll off be set on a block in a neighborhood and allow anyone to dump waste in the roll, the concern is that, based on historical data, it is an unsafe and unhealthy practice because of the abuse that would occur by people, at night, dropping off items that are banned at the landfill: TVs, hazardous chemicals, etc. Such a practice is also not good economically. At the neighborhood cleanups, there are health dept. staff that monitors the waste that is brought to the roll offs.
The Recycling Guide can be downloaded online.
In August, EPAC made a presentation before the Pueblo Area Council of Governments (PACOG) to inform them of the availability of a Grant to do a waste audit at the landfill. It was due Oct 31st and has already been submitted. If approved the study will run from January until October, when a report is due to the State. A quantity of waste will be dug out of the landfill, placed on a tarp. The different items in that volume will be separated, catalogued and weighed. An economic value will be placed on some of those items: what is the value of each constituent item if it were diverted from the landfill and reprocessed into another product including jobs that could be created to handle the diversion and reprocessing.
Disposing of waster costs money which is an incentive to divert waste, or a disincentive to generate waste in the first place. “Tipping Fees” at the landfill have gone from 10¢ in 1990 to $10-$15 per “heaping” pick up load in 2009/2010 to $40-$50 per “level” pickup load today. New “cells” have been engineered and built at the landfill which cost about $1.3M and estimated to last 25 years. For instance, the Larimer County landfill, which serves Ft. Collins and Loveland, will close in about 4 years even though they are recycling like “banshees.” They are figuring out what they are going to do. Because air quality is “sacred” in Colorado, the likelihood of a “waste-to-energy” (incineration) program is nil. It is important to know the interconnection between purchasing items and the cost of disposing of them properly. [The cost of disposing of waste is relatively cheap in Pueblo compared to, say, NJ, where in 1994 the tipping fee was $106 per ton waste for shipping it to Ohio or Iowa.. Some day it may happen that waste has to be shipped out of Pueblo and the cost will be high. There needs to be an understanding of the economics of waste disposal and a cultural shift in the way Pueblo manages its waste.]