City reverses paper policy following composting stew
Post Independent Staff
In a case of reclosing the loop, the city of Glenwood Springs is recycling most of its paper at paper mills again after complaints that the resource instead was ending up in compost piles.
At issue is a recycling conundrum: Which is better, to haul used paper to faraway factories to be made into paper products, or to compost it close to home?
For a time, anyway, the city had opted for the latter approach, delivering much of the paper collected at its in-town recycling facility to the composting operation at its South Canyon Landfill.
Before that, it was composting only phone books and other paper that couldn’t be accepted by paper mills.
The rest was being taken up to the recycling collection facility at the Pitkin County landfill, then shipped back downvalley and out on Interstate 70 to mills.
“It was getting double-hauled,” said Doug Oliver, superintendent of the South Canyon Landfill.
Said LadyHawke, the technician at the city’s recycling center, “By the time you go through that entire scenario, the money alone, it’s not making any sense.”
They believe that it is more efficient to turn it into compost that is used locally.
“Either way it really is being recycled,” Oliver said.
But others say composting and recycling aren’t one and the same.
“It’s just hard for me to compost virgin white paper because it’s not really closing the loop. … It’s not making new paper,” said Kim Montague of Glenwood Springs.
She was distressed when LadyHawke first told her good-quality paper was being composted.
“She seems to think that it’s just the same thing, but I don’t,” Montague said.
Glenwood Springs City Council member Dan Richardson shared Montague’s concerns. He said composting does reduce transportation costs and is better than dumping paper in the landfill, but added, “It’s not necessarily preventing trees from being cut to make more paper.”
Richardson considers composting paper “down-cycling” rather than recycling. He voiced concern recently at a council meeting about what’s being done with the paper. Following recent discussions between City Manager Jeff Hecksel and Public Works Director Robin Millyard, the city is resuming recycling rather than composting most of its paper, Oliver said.
Hecksel said if higher-quality paper is a marketable commodity, it should be recycled. As for shipping it via Pitkin County’s collection center, “It’s too bad we don’t have a facility downvalley somewhere, but we don’t,” he said.
Dan Wolf, owner of Paper Wise, a Glenwood Springs company specializing in office paper recycling, understands why the city had chosen to compost paper. He said it can be difficult to do otherwise without the infrastructure to bale and store paper.
When he first got into the business, he composted paper because it was the easiest option and composters were happy to have it, he said. Now that he has a warehouse and baler and is collecting more paper, it makes more sense to take it to the paper recycling center at the Pitkin County landfill on days when he is servicing Aspen anyway, rather than having to make more frequent trips to compost sites.
He sees benefits to both recycling paper somewhere else and composting it locally.
“We all need to see each other as allies in that we’re all trying to accomplish the one goal, diverting waste from the landfill,” Wolf said.
But he said it’s important that people know what is becoming of the paper they are keeping out of their trash.
“People are fine with it when you’re up-front with it, is what I found out,” he said.
LadyHawke said she has been telling people paper at the Glenwood site was being composted ever since the practice started.
She said not all paper was composted. Sometimes, it came down to whether haulers had time to take it up to Pitkin County. Sometimes paper was composted if the paper bins at the recycling center couldn’t be emptied when they needed to be.
“It was either that or have a full container, which was not acceptable,” she said.
She questions using the gas required to haul paper to Pitkin County, to Denver, and eventually on to paper mills.
“When you really think about it that’s absolutely outrageous,” she said.
She said there’s no shortage of pulp paper to make recycled materials. And composting helps prolong the life of landfills, she said.
To Richardson, the composting issue points to a larger one: The need by the city to have a more aggressive and comprehensive recycling program. It should include more hours of operation at its in-town collection center, an outreach component, and an effort to keep construction and demolition debris out of the landfill, he said.
“It’s a willingness to put the resources there. Our landfill is a cash cow. Money has nothing to do with it,” he said.
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