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Colorado Springs Recycling Audit Finds Half of Residential Trash could have been Diverted from Landfills
Last month at the Pikes Peak Ecofestival, a trained group of Recycling Coalition of Colorado Springs volunteers sorted about three compacted yards of residential trash. That?s the equivalent of approximately 10 families? trash for a week. The volunteers found of the nearly 300 pounds of trash sorted, 158 pounds, 54 percent, could be diverted from area landfills.
 
Of the materials that could be diverted, 14 percent was clothing, toys and house wares, which could be donated or repurposed, 4 percent was compostable food waste, such as vegetables and coffee grounds, and 2 percent was better disposed of at an electronics recycling center. A remaining 108 pounds, or 37 percent, could have been recycled through single-stream, curb-side service. (Single-stream recyclable materials include plastics 1-7, cardboard, mixed paper, aluminum and metals, and glass bottles and jars. Trash haulers in Colorado Springs currently provide this service for a few extra dollars per month.) Even more materials would have been recyclable with a few simple steps, such as rinsing food containers or preventing paper from becoming contaminated with liquids.
 
The Recycling Coalition of Colorado Springs' audit goals were to educate Eco-Festival attendees while gaining preliminary data for the extent of resources currently being buried in regional landfills. This audit was the launch of a larger statistical effort, which will cover the span of a year, examine trash from multiple haulers, and cross several seasons.
 
Recycling coalition volunteers hailed from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Sierra Club, El Paso County, City of Colorado Springs and Fort Carson. (To address customer security concerns, volunteers were monitored and signed an affidavit of confidentiality.)
 
Did you know?
         According to the most recent 2007 data, El Paso County residents recycled significantly less paper (67.8 pounds per person, per year) than the average Coloradan (119.7 pounds per person, per year), 2009 Pikes Peak United Way Quality of Life Indicators Report.
         Recycling conserves natural resources and energy. In fact, energy savings resulting from recycling in Colorado during 2008 totaled approximately 35 trillion BTUs. That?s equivalent to removing nearly 350,000 average homes off the grid (2009 Annual Report to the Colorado General Assembly on the Status of the Solid Waste and Material Management Program in Colorado.)
         Trash and recycling providers in Colorado Springs, and some outlying areas, now offer single-stream (no sorting required), curb-side residential recycling. Although it currently costs a few bucks per month more, ordering it is generally a simple matter of calling your current trash provider. (Tip: to stay cost-neutral ask about getting your trash picked up less often.)
         According to the Colorado Association for Recycling and Environmental Protection Agency, the most effective way to increase recycling is a community-wide ?pay-as-you-throw? program that typically embeds the cost for recycling into basic trash service and then charges residents for trash collection based on how much they throw away. Fort Collins is a Colorado community where private trash providers operate using this type of system.
         Currently, Colorado Springs single-stream recycled materials are taken to Denver for sorting. A sorting facility in the Pikes Peak region could serve all of southeastern Colorado and create new jobs in our communities.
         The items most often recycled in our community that shouldn?t be are Styrofoam and plastic bags (even if they have a recycle symbol on them).
         As good as it is to recycle, individuals can have an even greater positive impact on the environment by reducing and reusing materials in the first place. However, El Paso County residents are generating more waste each year, growing over the last few years to an average of 6.48 pounds per person, per day (2009 Pikes Peak United Way Quality of Life Indicators Report). The national average is just 4.6 pounds of trash per person, per day. (U.S. EPA document ?MSW Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2007?).
View September 2010