Recycling, reuse and remanufacturing activities create jobs and can be done profitably and sustainably. The biggest obstacle to improving recycling locally is the limited availability of suitable land of sufficient size located close to Durango. To address this issue, a group of local business owners have spent several years planning a Resource Recovery Park. This project cleared its first major hurdle in December of 2012 when the conceptual development plan for the Resource Recovery Park was unanimously approved by the Board of County Commissioners.
Many municipalities have recycling, composting and scrap metal facilities but they are often in separate locations which makes it harder for a resident to “do the right thing.” The vision for the Resource Recovery Park (RRP) is to co-locate these services and then add other innovative components which will be unified by a common goal yet be composed of a wide range of businesses. The scope of activities, services and businesses will surpass anything else currently being done in Colorado, the Four Corners or the Rocky Mountain West. This will create jobs within the park, support new jobs in the community, and increase the awareness and image of our region, leading to increased tourism. In summary, the RRP will turn waste, which is an expense and a liability for our community, into marketable products that will dramatically increase local employment opportunities.
Americans are currently producing an average of 4.4 pounds of waste per person per day. In La Plata County alone, this means we are producing one ton of waste every 12 minutes, enough to fill more than 2,000 semi-trucks every year. When the waste from Archuleta and Montezuma Counties is included, we produce a ton of waste every 7.5 minutes, enough to fill 3,500 semi-trucks annually.
According to the EPA, the current average recycling rate in the United States is about 32%. According to a study conducted by Columbia University and Biocycle in 2007, Colorado has a recycling rate of 12.5%, the 12th worst in the nation. This low recycling rate means that there is an abundance of valuable raw materials available. The RRP will recycle, repurpose, or reuse cardboard, paper, paperboard, cans, plastics, glass, wood, scrap metal, food waste, electronics, textiles, and other discarded items and materials.
The main feature of this phase will be a mostly manual sorting facility designed to process residential co-mingled recyclables, commercial source-separated and co-mingled recyclables, construction and demolition waste, and other high-value waste streams where recyclable materials can be recovered that would otherwise have been landfilled. It is anticipated that mixed paper, cardboard, paperboard, plastics 1-7, tin, aluminum, glass, scrap metal, wood, asphalt, concrete, and drywall may be recycled. This facility will serve the five-county region of Southwest Colorado and provide a local, reliable MRF. The City of Durango has filled part of this niche for many years but will be unable to sort the recyclables they collect after they complete their remodel. This facility will meet the needs of county residents, local municipalities, and local builders/contractors.
A composting facility will receive organic materials from Durango and the surrounding areas via commercial collection and public drop-off. These materials will be managed onsite using controlled processes to produce valuable organic soil amendments that will support local agriculture, gardening, landscaping, parks and sports facilities, soil reclamation and erosion control activities. Composting will be achieved using covered aerated static piles, vermicomposting, mycelium, turned windrows, an in-vessel system or a combination of these technologies depending on which prove to be the most appropriate for the site. Materials processed will be comprised of mostly yard trimmings and source-separated food waste, which together make up 27% of the waste steam. The compost facility will provide an opportunity to divert a large percentage of the waste stream from landfills, potentially doubling our community’s recycling rate, while directly and indirectly creating dozens of local jobs.
Phase 3: Metal
Durango and La Plata County produce approximately 10,000 tons of metal annually. Some of this is recycled in Farmington, Cortez or even on the Front Range, but much of this material is landfilled (at an expense) because there is no local scrap facility. This facility will purchase metals from the community, which will create jobs, reduce waste, and bring money into our community.
This phase will encourage and facilitate green-entrepreneurialism. The main feature of the incubator will be facilities that provide relatively low-cost office, research, storage, and manufacturing space on a sliding scale to some permanent, but mostly start-up businesses that will utilize components of the waste stream as a basis for a business model. Fort Lewis College graduates, other community members, and businesses attracted from outside the region will have an opportunity to test their green business model in an established and supportive environment without a large financial penalty for failure. This will enable new businesses to take risks that would not otherwise be possible, creating new jobs and careers along the way.
The Resource Recovery Park is consistent with our community’s desire to minimize our environmental impact and promote economic development. The RRP will create a comprehensive development with flexibility in mind and enough space to meet our community’s needs far beyond our ability to predict what those needs will be. The RRP will be a long-term asset to our community by enabling, encouraging and facilitating recycling, re-use and remanufacturing businesses.
About the Author
Mark Thompson, founder of Phoenix Recycling, is working with Tim Wheeler of the Durango Compost Company to facilitate the creation of the Resource Recovery Park. Mark started Phoenix Recycling in 2000 in Durango, Colorado, offering recycling and waste collection,shredding service and co-mingled construction waste recycling.Phoenix won the "Green Business Leadership" award from the Durango Chamber of Commerce in 2004.