The Pikes Peak region is home today to a population of a quarter million -- up more than 100,000 compared to just a decade ago. And in two decades, our population will almost certainly increase to three-quarters of a million trash-generating souls.
Newcomers often wonder why their new community is almost completely devoid of recycling infrastructure, especially those who have moved here from states with first-rate municipal recycling programs such as California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington. Many local military personnel who have completed a tour in Europe -- where recycling is widespread, if not mandatory, in most countries; landfill space is nonexistent; and the government is proactive regarding environmental concerns -- expect to recycle and are shocked to find recycling infrastructure so abysmal here.
According to a study conducted by Boulder-based EcoCycle, Colorado ranks 47th out of all 50 states in recycling efforts. One reason is that Colorado's landfill tipping fees are among the nation's lowest, which means that trash haulers have little financial incentive to promote recycling programs. In addition, Colorado is notoriously deficient in providing local markets for selling recycled materials. This means that trash companies often have to pay exorbitant transportation fees in order to sell their recyclables.
The state's limited market for glass is a prime example of this phenomenon. Coors Glass of Golden is the only company between Colorado and California that buys glass, and the supply so outweighs demand that the going rate is a mere $15 a ton for clear and mixed glass and $45 a ton for amber. With prices so low, many Colorado communities find the sorting, transportation and fuel expenses become cost prohibitive -- and they choose not to recycle glass at all.
To worsen matters, Coors may soon discontinue buying glass to make way for their unbreakable plastic beer containers. If this happens, Colorado will have no means of recycling glass unless another market materializes.
As poor as our state's overall efforts are, the recycling efforts of Colorado Springs lag far behind efforts of other Front Range communities.
Curbside recycling services -- which are privatized here in the Springs, along with the trash collection itself -- are voluntary, limited and often offered only at an additional charge. Further discouraging recycling, there is currently only one central drop-off location in the Pikes Peak region for the public -- Recycle America, which is a subsidiary of Waste Management, a local trash hauler.
How did Colorado Springs sink to the bottom of the barrel? And more importantly, what can be done to improve our recycling practices?
To help find answers to these questions, the Clean Air Campaign of the Pikes Peak Region, with support from the Independence Community Fund, civic leaders, trash haulers, and local Green Party activists, invite your participation in a Friday, April 12 symposium at Colorado College.
Some questions that beg answering include: Why don't we recycle more? What is being recycled now? How do we as a community improve our recycling services? What are other Colorado communities recycling? Why are they recycling more than we are?
The program will feature a combination of panel discussions from our local civic leaders and trash haulers, presentations by experts from Fort Collins' and Denver's recycling programs, as well as an action-oriented brainstorming session.
Keynote speaker Lisa Skumatz will present an overview of the history and development of the nationally renowned recycling program there. Also scheduled is a discussion among community leaders, which will serve as a catalyst for developing a strategy to improve existing local recycling services.
The population explosion in Colorado may soon force us to develop a long-term strategy for reducing the amount of trash we generate. Increasing recycling efforts is not only a logical solution, it also has the potential to create hundreds, even thousands of jobs with the construction of processing facilities where recycled materials are manufactured into goods for resale.
Together we can transform Colorado Springs' recycling efforts into a viable program that our community can be proud of.
Marlene Hyer is a freelance writer, counselor, and member of the Pikes Peak Green Party's Recycling Committee.