Taos residents were shocked in 2019 when they had to find another place to dispose of their glass and plastic recyclable goods.

After months of debate, the Taos Regional Landfill Board elected to take over operations at the town of Taos Recycle Center at 201 Bertha Street. The town had been requesting financial assistance for the center’s operations due to the rising costs of recycling and declining revenues. Now, the future of recycling at the center has some folks questioning the next move.

The board took over the center late in 2019 and halted glass and plastic recycling services in the center for the time being. The center still accepts paper products, cardboard, aluminum and tin recyclables.

During that time, the board is having a financial evaluation done of the center’s operations to see what the next steps will be.

“After the study is complete the landfill board will review the options whether to take on recycling as part of the Taos Regional Landfill,” said Landfill Board Chair Russel Church. “This is a financial decision for the board.”

According to town Councilor George “Fritz” Hahn, a member of the board, the center brings in less than $1,000 per month in revenues for recycled materials, which is not nearly enough to meet the $225,000 annual approved budget for the center. Projected revenue for the center just exceeds $40,000 per year.

Hahn has also mentioned in prior meetings the vehicle emissions produced to transport glass or plastic outside of Taos since there are no refineries in the county.

The recycle center currently has two town employees working at the center from 7 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Pending the results of the evaluation, the center could continue to operate without glass or plastic.

In the meantime, citizens are trying to do their part by reducing use and finding other ways to recycle glass and plastic.

Reducing plastic

Some groups are looking for solutions to reduce plastic use so there is less of a need to recycle it in the first place, but parting with the ubiquitous material isn’t easy.

“We hardly know how to live without plastic,” said Megan White, the facilitator of Plastic Free Taos, a group focused on the reduction of plastic use in the area. A major focus of Plastic Free Taos is going to be education, White said.

The group is encouraging members of the community to start bringing their bags and even containers to stores. Some stores in the area have created bulk sections, which do not sell goods in prepackaged boxes or plastic bags. Instead, customers are encouraged to bring their own containers and pay based on the weight of goods upon checkout.

Plastic Free Taos will be holding pop-up events around Taos to educate consumers about alternatives to plastic as well as recognizing stores that reduce their plastic use.

“For us, that was a reasonable decision,” White said about the board’s decision to cut glass and plastic. “We knew plastic wasn’t really getting recycled. For the average person in Taos, it was a shocking decision.”

Plastic recycling, according to White, is entirely dependent on education of the consumer. Plastic must be properly rinsed and sorted in order to be correctly recycled. A dirty plastic container has the potential to contaminate the entire baled load, and can significantly drop the value of a load.

Recycling options

Those who are still looking to recycle in Taos have a few options when it comes to plastic and glass. Conscious Taos, a private company, is offering an outlet for those still working on their plastic reduction.

“Most of [our customers] want to do their part,” said Conscious Taos owner Scott Adair.

Conscious Taos is a curbside recycling service in Taos County that takes the recyclables of 150 paying customers out of the county. Started in 2018, the company gathers plastic, cardboard, tin and aluminum for their customers and trucks the load around once per month to Albuquerque’s Friedman Recycling. Conscious Taos pays $30 per ton to send their loads, which is paid through customer fees. The service also uses the fees for gas to haul their truck and trailer around Taos County and to Albuquerque.

According to Adair, the main issues for recycling in Taos are a lack of education, funds and enforcement for contaminates in loads.

Cardboard is only moneymaker

Despite the efforts of groups in Taos, large-scale government-sponsored recycling is still up in the air in Taos County.

The landfill board met for a Jan. 16 regular meeting to discuss the finances and options for the recycling center while the study is being done. During the meeting, Taos public works director Francisco Espinosa presented the board with a report on the operations.

According to the report, the center brought in $892 in revenue in September but operations and personnel costs topped at over $7,000 for that month alone. The report shows only $20,000 in estimated revenues for a six-month period. In that period, expenditures topped $119,000 from both operating and personnel costs.

“The [prices] we’re getting for our products – it’s an injustice,” Espinosa said during the meeting.

The recycling materials go to Town Recycling in Albuquerque and are sold by the ton. According to Hahn, the prices keep falling for recycled materials.

The main product bringing in revenue for the center is cardboard and Espinosa reported that the most recent price for cardboard is $5 per ton. In November, the recycling center shipped 36 tons of cardboard, resulting in around $180 of revenue.

The board is currently waiting for the results of the survey of the center and is looking for a number of solutions. Plastic Free Taos as well as Adair were present at the meeting and are hoping to work with the board to come up with a solution to the plastic and glass problem.

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