The Low Down on Local Recycling

Heather Rommel, our Executive Director, gives the low down on recycling in the Telluride area. 

Ever wonder where your recycling goes? Once it gets picked up, does it actually get recycled? Is it ok to group newspaper, cans, and glass together? I recently joined the Ecology Commission on a tour of the Bruin Waste recycling plant in Montrose, CO. I learned the answers to these questions and more!

The Bruin Waste recycling plant receives recycling material from Telluride, Mountain Village and our surrounding region via Sunrise, LLC. Bruin picks up recycling from Ridgway, Silverton, and the Montrose area. The City of Montrose and Commercial Refuse Service from Grand Junction are two other large haulers bringing recycling material to Bruin’s recycling plant.

Housed in a metal building, trucks pull into one end of the Bruin recycling plant and dump commingled recycling materials on the concrete floor. All material is loaded by machine onto a conveyor belt that rises to a second level platform spanning approximately eighty feet. Below the platform are large bins for separated recycling products: cardboard, paper, #1 plastics, #2 plastics, #3 - #7 plastics, tin, aluminum, glass. Workers are stationed on the platform and sort the material as it travels past on the conveyor belt. All products, except glass, are baled and packaged in approximately 4’x 4’ x 2’ bales. 

Cardboard and paper bales are stacked and later loaded in trucks to Salt Lake City and Long Beach, CA. Currently China purchases our local recycled paper and cardboard at a price high enough to cover trucking and barging. However, the market for post-consumer material fluctuates frequently so this market may have shifted by the time you read this. 

All aluminum and tin are sold locally in Montrose. Glass, however, poses problems. Glass is trucked to a location in the West End of Montrose County where it is stockpiled to be ground into a product similar to sand. Unfortunately there is no demand for this, making the grinding of glass not financially feasible. The hope is to create a market by finding local solutions for ground glass such as road repair, golf sand traps, construction bedding, and other innovative ways.

Once sorted, all plastics get trucked to Salt Lake City. There is a strong market for #1 & #2 plastics; these are readily recycled into new plastic. However, “clamshell” packages used for berry containers and to-go containers, though marked #1 or #2, have a slightly different composite and are grouped with plastics #3 - #7. Currently there is no market for postconsumer #3 - #7 plastics. These plastics are stock piled with the hope that there will be future demand. 

Corn-based plastics, #7, used at many festivals and by some thinking that they are using a more environmentally friendly product, require a high-temperature commercial composting system for breakdown. Telluride’s closest commercial composting system is located in Delta, where Bruin trucks compostable festival waste. Festivals and events typically have enough volume to make bio-plastics a better choice for the environment, but they are the exception. Since others do not have easy, local access to a commercial composter, the benefits of corn-based plastics (#7) should be weighed against the difficulty of proper disposal. 

The infrastructure, staff and equipment required to run the Bruin Waste recycling plant is significant. Relying on a fluctuating market to sell post-consumer products makes the recycling business precarious. The Telluride community is lucky to have Bruin as a committed recycling solution in Montrose. 

Distilling it down:

1. Recycling is necessary to reduce our waste stream, but the energy required to truck post-consumer material and create new products is monumental. Therefore it is best to avoid anything that is “single-use”. Telluride’s plastic bag ban taught us to bring our own shopping bags. Learning to bring our own coffee cups, water bottles, to-go containers, and silverware to avoid single-use would be a great next step for our community. 

2. If you are purchasing items packaged in plastic containers, seek out #1 & #2 plastics and avoid “clamshell packages” and plastics #3 - #7. 

3. Due to the weight involved with trucking, and the absence of a market for ground glass, avoid single-use glass. Colorado should consider a $.05 glass bottle return and/or mandate use of ground glass. 

4. Based on weight and post-consumer market demand, aluminum and #1 & #2 plastics are currently our best options for recycling single-use containers. Luckily many high quality microbrews, like Telluride Brewing Company’s, now come in cans. 

5. Purchasing recycled paper products supports local recycling by strengthening the post-consumer paper market. 

6. Buying locally grown food direct from farmers reduces packaging. Bring your own shopping bags and enjoy fresh food from the Telluride Farmer’s Market! 

Heather Knox Rommel is the Executive Director for EcoAction Partners.