Denver Recycling Businesses Turn to Boulder County Recycling Center Amid Market Fallout
As Denver-area recycling service haulers are scrambling to decontaminate their materials to meet China’s new restrictions on imported recyclables, the Boulder County Recycling Center has accepted an influx of their excess loads.
Because the Boulder County facility’s technology keeps the mixes of materials it produces desirable amid the market fallout for recycled products made in other parts of the globe, Denver haulers have turned to dropping off the loads they can’t process efficiently there instead of sending them to landfills.
The recycling market crash has been caused by policy changes in China , which imported and processed a bulk of the world’s recyclable materials until recently enacting more stringent contamination level regulations for the loads it accepts from overseas.
Styrofoam, plastic cups and food take-out containers are among the items that are commonly tossed in recycling bins despite not being actually recyclable, and their frequent inclusion in hauls of plastics Nos. 3, 6 and 7 have contributed to the market fallout for those materials, as China is no longer accepting most of those loads.
In neighboring Larimer County — which in May announced those plastics would be sent to the landfill and confirmed Wednesday that is still the case — the rate of contamination of recyclables collected has nearly doubled over the last two years from seven percent to 13 percent, Larimer solid waste director Stephen Gillette said.
Alpine Waste & Recycling, which collects and processes the city of Denver’s recyclables, has had to boost its staffing levels so its conveyor belts of materials are monitored more closely to allow for the careful removal of contaminants, Colorado Public Radio reported last week.
But that has created a backup of material, and Alpine is now among a handful of Denver metro haulers regularly dropping off loads in Boulder County, where plastics Nos. 3, 6 and 7 are still being processed.
“We are able to do this because we generate so little of this type of plastic in relation to the other plastics that we sort out. That said, when mixed plastic pricing is as low as it is right now, we store the baled material temporarily on site until pricing improves. We are lucky to have the space to do this,” Boulder County Resource Conservation Division manager Darla Arians said in an email.
Haulers outside Boulder County have been dropping off the material for the past two months, and so far the facility has received an additional 2,500 tons, Arians said.
Optical sorting technology implemented last year has allowed the Boulder County Recycling Center to speed up its lines by five tons per hour, and also to produce more pure mixes of materials than other facilities do, making Boulder County’s products coveted by American buyers.
“Our facility is built to accept double the amount of material we have received over the last 15 years,” Arians said.
Dropping off loads of residential recyclables in Boulder costs Denver haulers a “gate fee” of $10 per ton, though, which is less than what other material recovery facilities in the region charge, making the Boulder County Recycling Center attractive to haulers.
In a more stable recycling commodity market, gate fees are lifted, as the sale of materials can foot the cost of operating a material recovery facility.
Gate fees are not supplementing revenue for the Boulder County facility, though, as they only offset costs, Arians said.
It is still free for haulers to drop off materials at Boulder County Recycling Center collected from commercial sources, and the facility operators pay haulers $25 per ton for cardboard and $85 for sorted office paper.
Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/samlounz .