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New programs introduced to extend life of Pitkin County Landfill

The first load of trash is dumped into a new section of the Pitkin County Landfill on June 3. County officials expect the expansion will extend the life of the landfill another six to eight years.
Cathy Hall
Pitkin County Landfill
The first load of trash is dumped into a new section of the Pitkin County Landfill on June 3. County officials expect the expansion will extend the life of the landfill another six to eight years.

Experts say the Pitkin County Landfill could run out of space in the next few decades.

And landfill staffers are finding creative ways to save space and buy time.

One of those tactics is the Motherlode Mercantile.

The thrift store, which opened June 3 at the landfill across Highway 82 from Woody Creek, is designed to help keep useful items out of the landfill.

Jade Bath is running the store and helping to sell furniture, sporting equipment and various other household items.

“I think we take just about anything, you know, as long as it's in fairly decent shape,” said Bath. “I mean, there's some stuff in here that has some nicks and stuff, but, you know, take just about anything.”

Without the store, many of these items would have been buried in the landfill.

Cathy Hall, solid-waste manager at the landfill, said, “Yeah, I love trash. I mean, we could talk trash all day and recycling. … It’s an interesting and dynamic industry.”

Hall said the landfill is also opening a new section called “the north expansion.”

The current landfill space has only about a year and a half left before it fills up.

Hall said the expansion will extend the landfill's life another six to eight years.

“It's really the only solution we have right now,” Hall said. “It’s buying time.”

She said about 270 tons of trash are dumped there daily.

“Two blue whales of trash are filled a day here,” said Hall. “And we’re a really small landfill.”

Roughly half of that trash comes from construction and demolition projects, an amount that Hall said is abnormally high.

To help divert this type of waste, Pitkin County commissioners implemented — at the landfill's suggestion — a debris-recovery program.

The program requires developers in unincorporated Pitkin County to submit a deposit to the county during a construction project.

That money is refunded only if crews sort the debris before sending it to the landfill.

“It's having a big effect right now in unincorporated Pitkin County,” said Hall. “We have about a 73% diversion rate. So the program is working. It's doing good things.”

Hall said a lot of people moved to the Roaring Fork Valley during the pandemic.

As a result, the landfill is taking in more trash than ever.

“People came here,” said Hall. “They bought houses. They've torn down a lot of houses. It's just more people. More people are in town and staying in town.”

With the influx of people and construction projects, the significance of composting and recycling programs is growing.

According to Hall, Pitkin County is ahead of the curve.

“We're pretty advanced,” said Hall. “We have a 38% diversion rate for just general trash. That means anything we can keep out of the trash.”

But despite the numerous diversion programs and the new expansion, there are still a lot of barriers to operating the landfill in the coming years.

The price of land in Pitkin County is a big factor.

Hall predicts that the county will eventually need to ship trash to other landfills within the next several decades.

“There's really no other land in Pitkin County to buy,” said Hall. “It’s multimillion dollar property.”

Hall thinks the landfill will one day fill up and be converted into a transfer station where trash will be shipped to neighboring counties.

“Semi-trucks up and down Highway 82," she said, "and it would probably go to a Garfield County landfill or Eagle County.”

Hall is doing everything she can to slow that process down.

She hopes new technology will become available in the next 20 to 40 years that eliminates the need to bury trash altogether.

In the meantime, programs such as the new thrift store keep her going.

Halle Zander is a broadcast journalist and the afternoon anchor on Aspen Public Radio during "All Things Considered." Her work has been recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists.