For 13 years, the town of Taos has run a recycling center. It is an important service that helps town and county residents reduce their waste stream and be kinder to the planet.But only town …
For 13 years, the town of Taos has run a recycling center. It is an important service that helps town and county residents reduce their waste stream and be kinder to the planet.
But only town residents pay for the recycling service currently, a 75-cent monthly fee on their town utility bill; county residents don't pay to use the center.
And the recycling center isn't cheap to operate. The town is losing tens of thousands of dollars every year operating the center. Now town officials are threatening to stop county residents from using the center come September unless a solution can be found.
The numbers are bleak.
According to the town, in 2018 the recycling center brought in $83,000 in revenues. It cost $290,000 to operate it; nearly one-quarter of that expense is the electric bill alone to operate balers and other equipment. The town should work with Kit Carson Electric Co-op to be sure it is getting the best rates possible; perhaps it could run the machines at off-peak hours.
To top it off, China, the main buyer of American recyclable plastic, is no longer taking much of it because our collected plastic loads tend to be contaminated.
Preventing county residents from using the center will be a challenge and would be sad since the majority of the county's 30,000 residents live within a dozen miles of town.
If the recycling center were to shut down, all the materials that are recycled would end up in the landfill - driving up that cost to the town.
It's a complex problem, but here are a few steps the town and the county should take to shore up the recycling center:
- County residents should have to pay for the service through a punch card they can purchase or a fee added to their solid waste bills.
- The monthly fee for town residents should increase. The fee hasn't changed in a decade.
- Rather than a monthly fee on utility bills, which can miss a lot of people who don't pay solid waste fees, why not simply require both town and county residents who want to use the center to purchase a one-time card good for the year? They could purchase it online through the town or buy it at county or town offices. This, of course, would require a staffer to meet people at the gate to check their recycle card - but that's not a bad thing. The staffer could answer questions and ensure on the front end that people aren't recycling stuff they shouldn't be.
- The town gets the best price per pound for cardboard. The town could launch a marketing campaign to encourage all businesses - which generate the most cardboard - to crush and recycle it at the center.
- The town, or the Taos Regional Landfill Board if it takes over the center, needs to remind people how to properly recycle. This starts with a much clearer explanation on the town's website of what can and can't be recycled. Graphics and photos could illustrate the do's and don'ts (see the Santa Fe Buckman Recycling Center website for examples). Those same graphics could be used to mark the bins at the center and could be distributed as flyers to businesses, nonprofits and schools.
- The town is about to give a couple hundred thousand more dollars to The Waite Company to help with marketing Taos to tourists. The recycling campaign could be part of the contract. After all, many enlightened visitors want to see that a town like Taos takes its recycling seriously.
- On that note, the town needs to place at least a few recycle bins on the Taos Plaza and strategic places downtown. The bins could be limited to aluminum and glass to begin with, since those don't have to be rinsed out.
The town can't do much about the market price for the recyclables.
There's a lot that the town, the county and residents can do to help the center stabilize finances and improve recycling in the community.
If not, it is conceivable the town will simply shut the money-draining center down.
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