With the Taos Recycling Center set to close its gates to the public on Friday (Sept. 10), local businesses aim to help pick up the slack and provide helpful alternatives to traditional recycling.
While the town of Taos and the Taos Regional Landfill Board seem set on closing the center due to its low diversion rate (7.6 percent) on Sept. 10, the Taos County Board of Commissioners are deep in talks about ways to either save the current center, set up a new one or find some other creative solution. Meanwhile, local organizations Taos Initiative for Life Together (TiLT), Conscious Taos, The Recycle Ranger and Broken Arrow Glass aim to provide sustainable alternatives and ways to keep traditional recycling going.
Conscious Taos hopes to provide a doorstep alternative to taking your recycling to the dump. The business provides subscription members with an 18 gallon standard sized recycling bin and picks up most types of plastic, cardboard and more at peoples' doorsteps.
With an initial $30 sign up fee and and monthly fee of $35, Conscious Taos provides curbside pickup for recycling of most kinds, including most plastics, metals and paper products. The company is run by Scott Adair. His goal is to provide a door-to-door recycling service for a small town that isn't currently equipped with the infrastructure for such an amenity.
Conscious Taos then takes its recycling to Friedman Recycling, a center in Albuquerque which then sends and processes the materials to be properly recycled. He said he wasn't sure the Taos Recycling Center was meeting the same standard, and said he felt the current center "wasn't working."
"It's unfortunate that it shut down because a municipal option is a good thing to have. But when it's not working, then it is causing more harm than good."
Adair said he feels there is a disparity between what people recycle and what actually ends up being recycled. He called the phenomenon "wish-cycling" - when people drop things off thinking they will all be re-used but many of the materials may not actually be repurposed at all, and far more often rerouted to a landfill.
"Contamination is the largest problem in co-mingled recycling scenarios," said Adair. "The diversion rate has not changed, in my understanding in the state… in around the decade. It's always been around 7 percent here in Taos and then about 14 percent statewide."
Because China has slowed its acceptance of American plastic, glass and other recyclable materials over the last several years, the market for getting rid of plastic and glass has been slim, thus other ideas are needed, Adair said.
"I really just want to see Taos become... this amazing beacon of sustainability in these changing times, and to help New Mexicans be at the forefront of this energy change."
When it comes to changing the way people think about recycling everything from glass, plastic to compost, Adair said "all the resources are here in this state and I think it's just the time to utilize them."
To sign up for Conscious Taos' services, go to join.conscioustaos.com.
The Recycle Ranger
Paul von Huene, better known as the Recycle Ranger, took over the previous Recycle Ranger operation just over two years ago when former Recycle Ranger Joseph Godfrey sold his business - which aims to aid in current and future county recycling efforts.
Von Huene hopes to bring a regional solution to the table. He has been in talks with Taos County Commissioner Candyce O'Donnell, who has been trying to find a last-minute solution to keep the Taos Recycling Center open. He said he feels providing a free community option for recycling is important, and hopes to see a municipal center in the future. So far, he has found a donor to give $10,000 toward gap funding to help keep the center open.
The business is not a money maker, von Huene admitted. "I've been keeping my business really small, just doing mostly commercial pickups. I don't have a ton of residential clients. I have maybe about... 20 of them," he said, adding that he hopes to focus on the "big picture for everybody."
With the closing of the center, Von Huene said he has considered different possibilities, such as providing a free service for the time being, perhaps keeping it donation based. "It's just really important for me to keep this out of the landfill," he said.
Von Huene said he will keep fighting for a municipal recycling center "until the bitter end," and hopes to work with Commissioner O'Donnell to work on a community-wide solution to recycling. "I'm definitely committed to still serving the community no matter what."
To reach The Recycle Ranger for services, call 575-770-7917.
Broken Arrow Glass
Broken Arrow Glass (or B.A.G.) is a relatively new venture in Taos that also provides services in Santa Fe. Partners Shelby Kaye and Chris Bogle began coming to Taos to participate in the Taos Shakedown, a weekly event behind the Taos Diner where local makers come show their creations.
After it became known that locals could recycle their glass in Taos with B.A.G. for a small donation, their business became overwhelmed, with it costing the couple far more to maintain the operation than they were bringing in via donations. Just several weeks ago, they decided to bring their local glass recycling business to the Taos area, offering a $20 per month membership fee for local glass pickup.
They began with a love for glassblowing, which then turned into a love for sustainably reusing and recycling glass materials. Kaye and Boyle began by "upcycling" (or creatively reusing) the glass their own household produced during the pandemic. Living just outside of Santa Fe in Cuyamungue, they saw the demand for people recycling their glass become overwhelming in both the Santa Fe area and in their new market of Taos.
Kaye said they hoped to show that glass could be used in other (more creative) ways than taking it to the recycling center. "We're saying, 'Hey, we can help our community keep this local and show you that we're not putting it in the landfill, and hopefully, try and grow,' " she said.
"The whole idea of recycling glass is that it can be a closed loop, and it can be sustainable," Kaye added. She said she finds the closing of the recycling center both an unfortunate circumstance and also an opportunity.
Kaye worried about the actual recycling rate at the center. "Do I want the recycling center to stay open for Taos? We totally do. I also want them to actually recycle materials."
B.A.G. is offering a subscription membership though their website, brokenarrowglass.com/pages/glass-recycling-program.
TiLT is a nonprofit organization involved in many initiatives to create positive change, one of those being recycling plastic through their "Repurposing Plastic Project" (RPP). TiLT's founder and executive director and the Repurposing Plastic Projects' project coordinator Todd Wynward said that the goal of their project is to educate the community about what is possible, hopefully changing people's minds about the ways in which plastic can be recycled, or rather repurposed.
Wynward said the five people running TiLT and the RPP "have full time occupations and jobs already. We're not contractors ready to ramp up at scale or anything like that." He said their goal was to provide groundbreaking ideas and move the conversation forward, rather than providing a boots-on-the-ground service like some other companies.
They've already shown a capability to take in plastic recyclables and create quality structures using that material. They began by building a plastic bale shed, then built privacy walls and windbreaks for the Questa Farmers Market. Then they built a 10 foot by 20 foot horse barn out of plastic. Wynward said this was the first plastic structure to be permitted by the county.
"We wanted to show that it was possible something positive could be done with what we've been considering waste," said Wynward. "[It's] clear that we need to reinvent the way we deal with our waste, and instead of dumping it into the landfill, let's recognize it for what it is; it's a building material."
Wynward said TiLT and the RPP plan to promote the use of "ByBlocks" - or building blocks made out of repurposed plastic material - across the community. He called the blocks "a new cutting edge kind of technology that I could easily see as turning this problem of waste into a potential wealth machine."
RPP does provide a plastic repurposing service - for which it charges $5 per month - with the goal of baling plastic for future architectural use. Wynward said once a week they bring the collected plastic to their headquarters in Questa, where they bale the material. But their limited staff "can't serve more than, say, 400 households at a time…. we are providing a service at a very limited bandwidth. But our main focus is to provide imagination and ideas of what can be done with their plastic."
All in all, Wynward said the problem requires creative thinking. "I'm really wanting our local county government and regional landfill board to get imaginative and think outside the box and think about how we can help, you know, make building materials out of our plastic."
To view the options available through RPP, go to repurposingplastictaos.com
Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Conscious Taos picked up glass. They do not. We regret the error.