Carbondale Corner: Town trustees are ready to talk trash |

Carbondale Corner: Town trustees are ready to talk trash

Ben Bohmfalk

This fall, three seemingly unrelated developments prompted the Carbondale Board of Trustees to start talking trash again. No, our collegial board members have not started disparaging each other; we’ve decided to revisit the elusive goal of a more sustainable approach to our residential waste stream.

First came the bears. This summer, our local Parks and Wildlife officer estimated that 12 bears were actively feeding in Carbondale, even though our town is outside of bears’ natural summer range. They were here for the trash.

We already have an ordinance in place requiring trash to be stored where bears can’t get to it and put out on the curb only on collection day. But that ordinance clearly wasn’t working. So we more aggressively enforced and publicized our existing ordinance.

Things improved a bit, but we committed to finding a more effective approach to the bear/trash problem before next spring so this pattern does not repeat itself every year.

Next came our Environmental Bill of Rights (EBOR) and Climate Action Plan. We adopted these aspirational documents this year, and each one includes waste diversion in its goals. The EBOR states that Carbondale residents have a right to “comprehensive waste diversion and disposal systems that do not degrade the environment,” while the Climate Action Plan has an entire section devoted to “Waste Reduction and Reuse Action Steps.” Carbondaleans clearly value environmental sustainability and want to be responsible in managing our waste stream, but we haven’t taken significant steps in that direction yet.

Then came a series of complaints about the number of trucks on residential streets on trash pickup days. While we’ve made progress in moving most haulers toward a single collection day, we haven’t reduced the total number of trucks on the street. With four waste haulers each offering trash and recycling, plus one composter, you may see up to nine trucks on your street every trash day. Residents asked us to address the unnecessary noise, wear and tear, and inefficiency of this situation, so we bundled that conversation into our wildlife and environmental concerns.

What can we do to address the three related concerns about bears, waste diversion and the number of trucks on our streets? We’re going to start that conversation in earnest at our Nov. 14 meeting, and we encourage you to share your thoughts with us.

Currently, the easiest and least expensive thing to do with your waste is throw it all in a trash can that’s not bear-proof, sign up for the cheapest hauler and dump it all to the landfill.

What if we reversed those incentives, so the basic cost of trash service included curbside recycling and compost, plus a smaller, bear-proof trash container, making it easy to do the right thing? Should we move toward a single-hauler system, so only one truck per waste stream goes down each street?

Should the Town of Carbondale provide trash, recycling and composting service to residents as a public utility, just as we provide water and wastewater service? Or should we stick with our free-market system, more actively enforce our existing bear ordinance, and leave it up to motivated individuals to make progress toward our environmental goals? We’ll discuss these and other options over the coming months.

Our previous board spent significant time on this topic and made some progress but stopped short of major action. River Valley Ranch homeowners have banded together to contract one waste hauler for their entire neighborhood, reducing the number of trucks on the street and decreasing the cost per household.

Telluride, Boulder, Golden and many other municipalities have enacted policies to move toward their waste-reduction goals. Carbondale prides itself as an environmental leader among small towns in Colorado. Let’s see if we can take some significant steps toward a more sustainable approach to the waste we produce.

Ben Bohmfalk is a Carbondale town trustee.

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