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Rio Grande Recycle Center Will Save Half Of Annual Budget By Eliminating Cardboard Acceptance

Alex Hager
Aspen Public Radio

Aspen’s Rio Grande Recycling Center will stop accepting cardboard on July 1. That alone will reduce the center’s budget by 50-60%, part of the city’s effort to slim budgets after financial losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Pitkin County Solid Waste Center will continue to accept cardboard and residential trash services will still pick it up curbside.

Cardboard recycling at Rio Grande is estimated to save $125,000-$150,000 annually, according to Liz Chapman, senior waste reduction and environmental health specialist for the City of Aspen.

While other materials can be moved to nearby facilities at a relatively low cost, a lack of nearby cardboard processing facilities make it expensive for the city to work with.

“There are no Colorado locations that take cardboard and turn it into something else,” Chapman said. “To get cardboard turned into a different product, we have to ship it many many states away. In some cases, you have to ship it overseas to get it turned into a new thing.”

Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Public Radio
The cardboard recycling bin at Rio Grande Recycle Center. After July 1, cardboard will either have to go to the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center or get picked up by residential trash services.

Glass deposited at the Rio Grande Recycle Center is sent to a company near Fort Collins, which repurposes it into other products. Metals are sent to a facility in Rifle, where they are sorted and sold. Yard waste is processed at the Pitkin County landfill. But cardboard has to make an expensive voyage beyond the valley.

“Cardboard goes from the Rio Grande Recycle Center to the landfill, from the landfill to the front range, from the front range to parts unknown, depending on where they can get it sold,” Chapman said. “Each one of those steps requires handling, and that costs money.”

The city ships cardboard out of Aspen at a loss, which Chapman says is not uncommon for recyclers. 

Alex is KUNC's reporter covering the Colorado River Basin. He spent two years at Aspen Public Radio, mainly reporting on the resort economy, the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he covered the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery for KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska.