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Trash audit in Steamboat aims to divert waste from landfills

Article adapted from the Steamboat Pilot

Written by: John Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The idea of sifting through trash isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, but apparently Cameron Hawkins isn’t like most people.

“It is exciting; it’s awesome,” said Hawkins, who serves as the waste diversion director for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “I’m excited to see how much of it (trash) is recyclable, especially.”

Hawkins was joined by five other people Wednesday morning at Aces High in Steamboat Springs to sort through trash collected from commercial and residential properties in Routt County — both inside and outside of Steamboat Springs — as part of a waste composition audit. Others in the group included employees from Soudre, Miller and Associates and the Routt County Environmental Health Department and Joe O’Brien, president of Aces High.

The group sorted through each bag of trash, placing individual items into labeled containers based on the trash’s makeup. There was one for food items, one for paper items, one for cans, bottles and so on. The group sorted and weighed items until a sample size of 200 pounds was reached.

The process was repeated for different areas of the city and for areas outside of Steamboat Springs.

“Something that we definitely have access to locally is recycling, so how we can increase our recycling efforts will be pretty interesting to me,” Hawkins explained. “I think, as a community, we are trying to figure out how we can increase waste diversion, and so by looking at what recycling or composition is not being utilized will give us an idea of how we can increase our efforts to become more sustainable as a community. To do that you need data, and this audit provides that information for us.”

The group hopes the data collected will help them determine how effective recycling is various areas, and hopefully, help the group find ways to increase recycling efforts to decrease the flow of solid waste that is placed in landfills each year.

The study was paid for by a $49,384 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to fund a Northwest Colorado regional waste diversion study, focusing on Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. Souder, Miller & Associates was hired by Eagle County Solid Waste and Recycling to lead the study and prepare a report.

The purpose of the study is to gather information needed to optimize waste reduction and diversion efforts in the five-county region and to determine ways the counties can work together on waste diversion efforts.  

“We are trying to figure out how much waste can be diverted from landfills, how much could be recycled, composted, anaerobic digestion and those different types of ways to treat waste rather than sending it to a landfill,” said project leader Winn Cowman, who works as a scientist with Soudre Miller and Associates.

Her interest was shared by both Hawkins and O’Brien.

“We are still learning about recycling as well, and we want to become the community leader as far as recycling in Steamboat and Routt County,” O’Brien said. “A process like this helps us understand what they are looking for and what can be recycled. We are looking to divert as much waste out of the stream as possible.”