SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
A new world waits for this city’s bear-tossed trash and its teeming bins of refuse.
The huddled masses of yogurt containers, plastic cups and to-go salad cartons have found a welcoming shore and perhaps a second life as a laundry detergent bottle or a pet-food carton.
Durango’s recycling center is about to get a $1.6 million makeover, increasing its square footage by 3,580 feet and possibly expanding its volume of recycling by as much as 40 percent.
When single-stream recycling begins in early 2013, the city will have a greater capacity for recycling, accepting plastic types 1 through 7 as well as a lot more cardboard, such as cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls and the holders for six packs of bottled beer.
This is Durango’s “feel-good moment,” said City Councilor Sweetie Marbury, who recalled the old days of having to personally haul her old newspapers to a semitrailer in the parking lot of a dry cleaner.
“We have come a long way, baby, in these 30 years,” Marbury said at a recent council meeting.
She voted with a “woo-hoo” yes for a conditional use permit to allow improvements to begin to the facility on Tech Center Drive.
Recycling the recycling center
Like the arrows in the triangle symbol for recycling, the city’s recycling patterns complement each other. The recycling center could not get the upgrades – officials joke they’re recycling the recycling center instead of building a new one – without starting the single-stream recycling system first.
Because the new automated system will be so much more efficient and need less space, it will allow construction to begin on different parts of the building.
Officials want to expand the building to 11,000 square feet to increase storage capacity, keeping as many as six trucks indoors and keeping plastics out of the rain so wet plastic won’t leach potassium and nitrogen into the groundwater. Including the outside canopies and a new loading dock, the recycling center will occupy about 15,000 square feet of space.
The city’s load of recycling has grown steadily in recent years – from 2,943 tons in 2010 to 3,399 tons in 2011. As of June 30 this year, Durango already had collected 1,869 tons of recycling.
Most of the weight is attributed to glass, which could be an indication of the city’s thirst for beer and wine.
The city, however, won’t be able to accept glass bottles for curbside pickup under the new single-stream system.
Because the single-stream system smooshes everything together into big bales for unpacking and sorting later at a regional receiving center, officials don’t want to get crushed glass into the bales of compacted plastic, cardboard and paper.
So the city will ask the public to take its glass to the current recycling drop-off points around town.
Traffic patterns to change
The public still can bring recycling and separated glass to the center on Tech Center Drive.
The traffic patterns will be reconfigured for safety by separating commercial and public traffic.
“We all know how difficult it is to drive around big trucks,” said Peter Icenogle, an architect from Grand Junction who worked on the project.
The public will enter from the north and drive along a path parallel to Tech Center Drive. People can drop off their recyclables and separated glass on the west side of the building and exit from the south.
Commercial trucks will enter from a separate north entrance and go around to the east side of the recycling center. After dropping off their loads, trucks then will turn around and exit from the north.
The single-stream baler will receive recycled materials from both the east and west sides of the building and then push the compacted bundles of recycled materials to trucks on the southern end of the building.
Commercial contractors then will deliver the bales to a regional center, called an “MRF” for materials receiving facility, where they will be unpacked and sold on the market.
Simpler recycling belied by crazy market
Life is supposed to become simpler for residents and the city alike. The same garbage trucks will pick up trash and recyclables for city residents at different times of day.
Because residents no longer will have to sort their recyclables, they are likely to recycle more, officials said.
Residents, however, are asked not to put their recyclables into plastic bags because that will create more work for employees who will have to unbag the recyclables.
Plastic bags are excluded from single-stream recyclables because they cannot be resold on the commodity market for recycling.
There does not seem to be a free-market solution for plastic bags.
“Nobody wants them,” said Dale Cogswell, the city’s solid waste manager.
City Market and Albertsons provide bins for recycling plastic bags, and people can bring plastic bags to the customer service counter at Walmart for recycling.
The markets for recycling are as fluid and quirky as any another.
“It’s like Wall Street,” Cogswell said.
While the city will need fewer buyers for its recycling, finding an MRF is difficult because prices jump so much.
The city’s sale price per ton of mixed paper, for example, dropped from $65 to $30 in September when a former paper buyer closed its plant in Snowflake, Ariz., Durango found another buyer in Albuquerque at the lower price.
The city was able to deal with the loss because mixed paper is secondary as a commodity compared with cardboard. And fluctuations in price are an accepted part of the business, officials said.
To finance the $1.6 million in improvements at the recycling center, Durango is using grants and a $250,000 fee from a new garbage contract with Waste Management to cover a little more than half the construction costs while the balance is coming from the city’s solid waste budget.
The project is supposed to be completed by late spring.