VAIL — After months of planning and meeting, a mandatory recycling measure in Vail is likely to become town law in the next several weeks. But it’s going to take some time for the town to address whether, or how, to regulate plastic shopping bags.
The Vail Town Council recently heard a presentation from town sustainability coordinator Kristin Bertuglia, who updated members about some of the mandates expected in the new ordinance. The goal of any new regulation is to recycle at least 25 percent of all Vail’s refuse by the end of the decade. To do that, the new law will include homes, businesses and trash-hauling companies.
Perhaps the biggest change customers will see is that recycling fees will be part of their basic trash bills, and not separated out as another line on the invoice. Customers will also probably be required to have wildlife-resistant recycling containers.
Requiring separate containers for trash and recycling may create some new issues for both residents and businesses. Depending on the amount of material hauled out to the curb, some residents or businesses may require more than one pickup per week from their hauling companies. That’s going to create extra costs.
Matt Donovan of Honeywagon, one of the haulers that serves Vail, told the council his company and others have a couple of problems when it comes to recycling. The first is relatively low fees at the Eagle County Landfill. That can discourage recycling simply because of costs.
The other is the cost of labor, which is higher here than in other communities, Donovan said. Sending trucks to the same sites multiple times a week will necessarily add to any hauler’s costs.
“We expect rates to go up as we move forward with this,” Donovan said.
Mayor Andy Daly said council members will want to understand the costs associated with mandatory recycling.
“We need to work with the haulers so we know what the impacts will be,” Daly said.
Council member Greg Moffet said it’s also going to be important to create regulations the town will be able to enforce. He particularly insisted that recycling bins have the same wildlife-resistant features regular trash cans have.
“You can’t mandate [wildlife-resistance] for trash and not recycling,” he said, adding that he’s seen what happens when a motivated bear decides to get serious about getting into trash, even in a locked garage.
Another issue is space, especially in the resort villages where every square foot carries a high price tag. How to find room for both trash and recycling containers could be tricky.
While there’s still a lot to figure out before council members start debating recycling regulations, one potentially contentious item won’t be included — a ban on plastic shopping bags.
After the Tuesday afternoon session, Bertuglia said including bags in the recycling regulations would add even more complexity to an already-complex issue.
Some of that complexity includes just what bags would be subject to regulation, grocery bags or the usually more-substantial bags available at the town’s resort retail shops.
“I’d always assumed these would be a separate issue,” Moffet said in an interview after the Jan. 7 meeting. “It’s been hard enough to get [the recycling measure] where it is.”
If bag regulations come, Vail would join Aspen and Breckenridge in either assessing a charge for grocery bags, or banning them altogether.
While grocery bags may be handy for other uses, they’re also a headache for recyclers. Even a bag full of recycled newspapers will slow down the recycling sorting at the Eagle County Landfill.
No matter what happens with bags, recycling regulations are on the way. Council member Margaret Rogers said she wants decisive action on the matter.
“It’s really a disgrace that the national average is 35 percent and we’re at 19,” Rogers said, adding that she’d prefer to pass an ordinance, then fix whatever problems arise.
When the measure does pass, council member Dave Chapin said he expects it to be well-received.
Chapin, owner of Vendetta’s restaurant in Vail Village, said the younger people working for him will do whatever’s needed to comply.
“I know this can be done,” he said.
And, Bertuglia said, while Vail currently lags other resort communities in its recycling efforts, the measure currently being drafted will be “among the best” in the resort world when completed.