ASK EARTHA: I’m new in town and confused about recycling!

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, I’m new to Summit County and recycling here is different than the recycling where I used to live. Could you give me some general things to keep in mind so I’m less confused? – Dan, Silverthorne

Thank you for your inquiry, Dan, and welcome to Summit County! Recycling can be confusing in a new community. However, there are some recycling best practices to keep in mind.

First, let’s clarify the four main places and ways to recycle in Summit County.

Single Stream: This is the curbside pick-up service. Your recyclables (with the exception of glass) all go into one bin.

Drop Off: You bring your recycling directly to one of three recycling drop off sites in the county – Dillon, Frisco, and Breckenridge.

Food Scrap Recycling: This program allows you to bring your food scraps to the Frisco or Breckenridge Recycling Center to be turned into compost.

Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP): All materials collected from the recycling drop-off centers, and those dropped off by local recycling services, are organized, baled and shipped from this location. It is also home to the High Country Compost Facility and the landfill.

Now, here are five recycling best practices to keep in mind.

No Plastic Bags

Never put plastic bags in recycling. Bagging your recycling or food scraps may seem harmless. However, these bags are a major cause of contamination.

Contamination happens when non-recyclable or hazardous materials are placed in the recycling bin. Excessive contamination can cause an entire recycling load to go into the landfill.

Plastic bags can easily blow away and get caught in sorting machines. This extends to other similar thin plastics such as plastic film.

In food scraps, plastic bags, even those BPI Certified compostable bags and paper products, do not break down in our arid mountain environment.

What you can do: Bring your plastic bags to grocery and retail stores where these items are accepted. Be proactive to minimize your use of plastic bags in general.

Glass is Always Separate  

When glass gets mixed in with other recycling it can break into tiny pieces that can penetrate the other materials in the system thus causing major contamination. Glass can be infinitely recycled and that happens right here in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Bottle Company. Note that tempered glass items such as ceramic dishes, window glass, drinking glasses, and Pyrex are not accepted in local recycling programs.

What you can do: Team up with your neighbors on a glass bin and take turns dropping off at the SCRAP or one of the drop sites. Donate and repurpose your tempered glass items.

Keep your trash out

This may seem like a no-brainer but dumping your trash in with recycling or at recycling centers not only can contaminate an entire load of recycling, it is also a crime. The penalty? A hefty fine. It’s just as important to keep incorrect materials out as it is the right materials in. A helpful phrase to remember: “when in doubt, throw it out”.

What you can do: Clean and separate your materials into the appropriate bins. Keep your trash out of all recycling.

Learn what’s recyclable

You may be surprised what can be recycled in our community. Household hazardous waste (HHW) such as electronics, televisions, light bulbs, paints, fertilizers, and more (which should not be mixed in with your single stream or at drop off sites) can be dropped off at the SCRAP year-round and is FREE to Summit County residents.

What you can do: Check out the resources on HighCountryConservation,org. Look for the HHW info page and the Recycling Robot, a search tool that lets you know which items are recyclable and what you can do.

Recycling is just ONE part of waste reduction

Even the best recyclers can keep in mind the other R’s of waste reduction: reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse. Know that your buying power is an incredibly effective way to create demand for more sustainable materials and policies.

What you can do: Refuse plastic straws, bags, and single use materials. Reduce the number of non-recyclables products you buy. Get creative in ways to reuse materials in your home, office, or community.

Dan, I know there’s a lot to learn when moving to a new place. I applaud you for asking the question and I hope these tips will help you recycle and reduce your waste more confidently.


Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center.

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