Recycling options vary for North Colorado residents. Fort Collins and Windsor, for example, offer a combination of city and private options, depending on the recycled material. Greeley was forced to close its downtown recycling center in 2014 because of high operating costs and a lack of participation, but it may be coming back.
That’s what Brad Mueller and the city of Greeley hope to find out. The city has sent out postcards to about a quarter of households to gauge how much people would be willing to pay for better recycling.
“We’re right in the middle of getting that wrapped up and getting that data in,” said Mueller. “The early information that we’ve received is that the participation was high, and of course in any survey, that’s very critical.”
After they analyze the data from the survey, the city will look at different options, such as opening a new recycling center or working with the private sector. Until then, Greeley residents will have to continue to use Northern Colorado Disposal for pick-up and drop-off service.
Part of the problem for city recycling centers is the rising costs. The cause, according to Mueller, is dropping commodity prices -- such as aluminum, plastic and glass -- fueled by China’s decreased demand for recycled material. Fortune Magazine says the price of bales of cardboard sold to China dropped by 24% between 2013 and 2014.
Mueller says the demand and output of newspaper and fluctuations in the prices of recycled metal and glass are also a factor.
“It’s really combined to be a perfect storm to create a challenge for having an actual market to sell the recyclables to,” said Mueller. “However, everyone recognizes the long-term sustainability need. So know it’s an ongoing need to tackle, and it just requires more creativity and more ingenuity as to how to meet all those needs.”
Greeley isn’t the only community along the Front Range that’s struggled with higher recycling costs. David French is the facilities manager for the City of Windsor. He says the rise in commodity prices also tends to follow the price of oil.
“So, when oil is high, the commodity prices seem to pay out better, and when oil is low, like it is now, commodities seem to follow that,” he said.
Some cities have looked at a combination of city-plus-private options for cost-saving solutions. In Fort Collins, recycling haulers are part of the private sector. Fort Collins unanimously passed the Community Recycling Ordinance in 2016, which includes updates to trash and recycling service for single family homes. Private trash haulers will have the option to charge a "service surcharge" on residential bills starting in April 2017.
The ordinance was designed to coincide with an initiative to offset the environmental impact of the city.
“Over 50 percent of the material currently being land-filled from Fort Collins could be composted,” said Caroline Mitchell, the city’s Senior Environmental Planner. “That remains a really significant opportunity both for greenhouse gas reduction and waste reduction. And that is a primary focus for the city right now.”
In keeping with the initiative, private hauling services are required to include a seasonal yard trimmings service and compost collection for grocery stores by 2017. By 2020, they must offer recycling and trash service for all multi-family complexes and businesses -- all for an additional charge.
Mueller says every city and town in Colorado could benefit from the involvement of the private sector.
“Well, I think everything is going to be on the table, and again, I think it’s a very dynamic issue that’s somewhat constantly changing over the last couple of years,” he said. “I don’t know that there is a whole lot out there in terms of different models to go towards, but we do want to explore everything from the neighborhood pickup to the more district community drop-off location, and certainly partnering with the private sector to enhance their opportunities as well.”