Recycling isn't as simple as deciding between paper or plastic at the grocery store. In Colorado Springs, it can be a little more confusing than that.
Unlike other states, Colorado doesn't have mandatory recycling. Instead, state and local leaders have left that choice up to the consumer.
To make matters even more puzzling, there are nearly a dozen local waste companies providing a variety of garbage pickup services to residential and commercial clients. Some provide free recycling services, others don't. Some pick up the recyclable goods at the same time as normal garbage service while others come only at special times.
Nearly every waste company provides a recycling service simply because there's a growing demand among customers, particularly from people moving to the area from recycle-friendly places such as California and Washington.
"To truly compete in the market, you have to have it," said Terry Buteym, operations manager at Best Way Disposal. "It's an expense to us. We don't make a dime on it. More and more people are asking about recycling. As the company grows, our recycling increases with it."
Recycling is limited to a handful of products that are bought and sold on the marketplace, namely newsprint, some plastics, glass and aluminum. Recycled products are bought and sold much like commodities, with prices fluctuating with demand. Cardboard, for example, can range from $5 a ton to as high as $80 a ton.
While most waste companies offer recycling, it's rare for a company to make money from it. They do benefit, though, from accepting recycling products because it reduces the amount of garbage taken to the area's private landfills, which charge by volume.
Team Green, a local waste company, tried to open a recycling-only service in 1995 and quickly found the economics didn't add up. The company has since become a full-service waste company, but still provides recycling services to about one quarter of its clients.
"When we first started out, we saw pretty quickly it wasn't going to work," said Gary Mentzer, owner of Team Green. "We found there wasn't enough demand for recycled products to make any money on it."
Mentzer said there's simply more recyclable goods than demand, keeping prices low for such items as glass and newsprint.
"We really wanted to go after a full recycling program, but we couldn't sell the product after we got it. At some point, we had to make an economic decision," Mentzer said. "It was costing us too much to do it."
An additional factor is that people can drop off their recycled products for free at Recycle America, a private company at 602 E. Fourth St.
A local group is hoping to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle and find ways to increase Colorado Springs recycling. The Clean Air Campaign of the Pikes Peak Region will be hosting a round-table discussion on recycling in April to help celebrate Earth Day.
"There's minimal recycling in Colorado Springs and sometimes you have to pay a fee," says Tyler Stevens, executive director of the group. "We want to leverage an increase in recycling."
Stevens' group hopes to bring together all the major players in the recycling issue, from waste companies to local governmental agencies and business leaders.
The group hopes to encourage dialogue about recycling, increase public awareness and build a stronger local network promoting recycling. They also plan to host a "trade show" where local recycling programs can promote their services.
-- Andrew Hood