The Pikes Peak region may be at the bottom of the heap when it comes to recycling, but one local municipality aims to dig its way closer to the top.
With backing from the Manitou Springs City Council, a group of Manitou residents is working to develop a plan that would boost the amount of household waste recycled by the city's 5,000-plus inhabitants.
The Council last month endorsed the creation of the Green Ribbon Task Force, a citizens group that will explore ways to increase recycling. The task force grew out of a symposium on recycling at Colorado College in April, sponsored by the Clean Air Campaign of the Pikes Peak Region.
According to statistics presented at the symposium, only 19 percent of Colorado's household waste is recycled, placing the state ahead of just three others -- Alaska, Montana and Wyoming. The estimated recycling rate for El Paso County, meanwhile, is 8 percent.
"Colorado is No. 47 in the United States for recycling, and I think it's time we did something about it," said Tobe Easton, a spokeswoman for the Manitou task force.
Currently, curbside recycling is strictly voluntary in both Manitou and Colorado Springs. Curbside trash collection is operated by private waste haulers, most of which offer recycling services to customers. Some charge an extra fee for recycling.
According to Easton, the task force will study the option of enabling individual neighborhoods, or perhaps the entire city, to contract with a single trash hauler and require that recycling be universally available to customers for free. By joining together, residents can use their bulk buying power to drive down prices, which might make it possible to add recycling without increasing collection fees, she said.
Such an approach might also reduce costs for trash-hauling companies because they can work more efficiently when they contract with entire neighborhoods or even the entire city, Easton says. "Having to pick up one [trash bag] here and one there is one of the biggest problems for them."
Easton says it's important to make sure that whatever recycling program is adopted doesn't increase costs.
"It has to be, of course, something that the trash companies and the citizens are willing to do voluntarily," she said.
There may also have to be incentives for people to participate in the recycling effort, Easton said. Even though some waste haulers already offer free recycling, not all of their customers bother to recycle.
One possible way to ensure participation, which the task force will study, is to establish a "pay-as-you-throw" system. Under such a system, the more non-recyclable waste a household or business generates, the higher the hauling fee.
Whether or not recycling should become outright mandatory "is a question for the town to decide," Easton said.
The Green Ribbon Task Force plans to meet with local waste haulers and will also hold public meetings to gather input. It aims to present a proposed plan sometime next year.
Manitou City Councilwoman Kathy Verlo, who has been appointed the Council's liaison to the task force, says she hopes Manitou can become an example for the rest of the region.
"If we could make something work, it could be kind of a model," she said.
The city of Colorado Springs has yet to take any steps to boost recycling, according to City Councilman Richard Skorman, who has advocated increased efforts. Skorman says he'd like to see a citizens task force similar to the one being established in Manitou, but no such group has approached the Council for support as of yet.
Perhaps, if Manitou will lead, "Colorado Springs will follow," Skorman said.
-- Terje Langeland