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Bruin Waste Recycling Center Tour

What’s really happening to our recycling?

Jake Niece
September 24, 2019

After hearing the same rumors and concerns from many businesses and individuals, I decided to get the actual facts on what’s happening to our recycling in San Miguel and Ouray counties. I got in touch with Chris Trosper, Owner/Operator of Bruin Waste and asked. He answered all my questions and invited me to tour the facility. I extended the invite to other non-profits and anyone else I thought might be interested.

On September 4th, 2019, representatives from EcoAction Partners, Sheep Mountain Alliance, SMPA, and Telluride TV were given a tour of the Bruin recycling center located in Montrose across the highway from the airport. 

National news headlines have stated that recycling is being dumped in landfills. That is happening in some places as the markets for recycling have changed since China and other southeast Asian countries have stopped accepting our rubbish. However, Bruin is still recycling what it collects from us. I asked Mr. Trosper point blank if Bruin dumps recycling in the landfill, and his answer was, “No.” He stated that they would not go to the trouble to collect separately if they were doing that. The markets are changing, but there are still enough buyers in the United States and worldwide for most recycling to be profitable.

Although if you’re still skeptical, the best thing you can do is stop buying products packaged in plastic, and stop accepting free plastic. I understand it is not really possible to eliminate 100% of single-use plastic from our lives right now, but it’s not a binary choice, making a conscious decision to avoid it whenever possible is more valuable than giving up.

Metal and #1-2 plastics are retaining value, while the price for cardboard has dropped because of an increasing supply of it, probably due to the popularity of online buying & package shipping. Bruin is still collecting #3-7 plastic from some customers, but at a loss currently. Chris continues collecting, sorting, and selling these at a loss to keep his supply lines intact with hopes the market will recover. These plastics are not easily recycled into new products, and they currently end up at power plants where they are burned for electricity.

Yeah, not great. Think about that the next time you grab something to buy that is wrapped in plastic.

Bruins Recycling Process

After your blue bin is emptied into the recycling truck, it drives away to Montrose and dumps the load in this bay.

An operator in a skid-steer scoops it up and dumps it in this vibrating sorting machine to filter out some contaminants.

Then it heads up a conveyor belt where items are sorted by hand into glass, plastic, paper, and metal.

Contaminants are thrown behind the conveyor belt where they are collected and taken to the landfill.

Each product is then baled and staged for pickup from a buyer.

Chris Trosper Owner/Operator Bruin Waste (left) & Alex Shelley Communications Executive SMPA (right)

And that’s it. Buyers are demanding a lower contamination rate, and Bruin cleans up our recycling for us to meet that requirement. Recently, the total volume of recycling has gone up, but so has the contamination rate. I personally speculate that this is because of “hopeful recycling.” If you want to be a model recycler, follow this recycle guide that EcoAction Partners made with information from Chris. Post it on your receptacles to help yourself and others.

Keep your eyes on Telluride TV for the release of the video they are putting together. EcoAction Partners will also share it on our site and facebook.

For a deeper dive into our waste, read the 2016 waste audit of San Miguel & Ouray counties conducted by EcoAction Partners. Another waste audit has been conducted in 2019 and we are awaiting the final report. A link to that will be included in our monthly newsletter when it becomes available.

Jake Niece
Green Business Coordinator
SMPA IQ Weatherization Coordinator
Office: 970 728 1340