New app takes the guesswork out of recycling
Have you ever stood in front of your recycling bin wondering what to do with the lid to your peanut butter jar? Is the growing bag of plastic bags under your sink driving you crazy? Are you planning a kitchen remodel and have no idea what to do with your old appliances?
You’re not alone. Recycling in Routt County can be confusing. But the new Yampa Valley Recycles web-based and mobile app is the answer to all your recycling questions.
Like many rural communities, Northwest Colorado struggles with low recycling rates. The success of Yampa Valley Sustainability Council’s biannual Recycling Drop-Off, serving 500+ residents and businesses and bringing in 30 tons of materials per event, points to a strong community desire to recycle. But, with four different waste haulers in Routt County, all with varying guidelines, and 300,000+ annual visitors, all with different recycling habits and behaviors, it can be hard to know what goes in the recycling bin at home, at work, on-the-go and on vacation.
This confusion leads to contamination—things in the bin that shouldn’t be—a problem that is plaguing recycling programs in communities nationwide. Our location here in Routt County, far from an urban center, makes recycling an already tenuous economic prospect due to high hauling costs. So, when our community’s recyclables are contaminated with everything from plastic bags to diapers (for real), the value of the recycled materials goes down and the economics of recycling in Routt County goes south, too.
The new Yampa Valley Recycles app, brought to you by Yampa Valley Sustainability Council (YVSC), is a much-needed community resource to help residents, visitors, students and employees understand what can and cannot be recycled and where to take something if it is recyclable. It provides easy access to a searchable database of hundreds of items. The database spans traditional recyclables, like paper, plastic, aluminum and glass, as well as hard-to-recycle items, like electronics, lightbulbs, paint, appliances and more.
To use the app, simply download it from your phone’s App Store or go to www.yampavalleyrecycles.org. In the search bar, type in the item you’re looking to recycle. The tool will list the local options for recycling that item. For example, if you replace your hot water heater with a more energy efficient model, a search of “water heater” yields several local options for recycling the old heater with scrap metals.
In addition to the search feature, the Yampa Valley Recycles app also offers a fun waste sorting game based on local recycling guidelines and options for hard-to-recycle items. Kids and adults are invited to play the game to test their recycling knowledge and learn what goes in each bin. Players start at Level 1 sorting traditional recyclables from trash. By Level 5, the game gets tougher, asking players to correctly sort items such as bubble wrap, batteries, construction debris, mattresses and clothing. Both the game and the searchable database are also available in Spanish.
Keeping waste out of the landfill isn’t all fun and games, though. Recycling is one of the easiest daily actions we can all take to protect the environment, and it’s a serious strategy in the fight against climate change. The way we produce, consume and dispose of our products and food accounts for 42 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling not only cuts carbon dioxide emissions, but it also prevents the depletion of natural resources, reduces deforestation, conserves water and energy, increases sustainable manufacturing, and keeps waste from entering waterways.
Recycling is also good for our economy. Each year, Colorado landfills nearly $265 million worth of recyclable materials such as aluminum, cardboard, paper, glass and plastics. Instead, these materials could be recycled in our state, creating jobs and strengthening local economies. On average, recycling creates nine times more jobs per ton than landfills, and reusing materials creates 30 times more jobs.
The state of Colorado recently recognized the importance of diverting waste from the landfill for the environment and for the economy. In 2017, the Colorado Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission approved the state’s first-ever waste diversion goals, aiming to increase recycling and composting over the next 20 years with a goal of diverting 45 percent of discards from the landfill by 2036. It is anticipated that within the next few years, local municipalities throughout Colorado will be required to develop and implement strategies to help meet these goals.
In response to the state’s new waste diversion goals and our community’s clamoring to improve recycling locally, in 2018 YVSC formed a working group to develop Routt County’s first-ever Waste Diversion Strategic Plan (www.yvsc.org/wastediversionstrategicplan). Stakeholders involved in creating the plan represented a broad coalition, including government, businesses, waste haulers, nonprofits and concerned citizens. For a year, the group met monthly to identify and discuss opportunities to expand waste diversion locally. The group targeted six priorities for improvement: curbside recycling, organics recovery, business waste diversion, construction and demolition materials, a one-stop-drop location for hard-to-recycle items, and recycling education and waste diversion at events. These priorities were affirmed by feedback at presentations throughout the community.
In 2019, YVSC is facilitating task forces to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the priority areas. It’s not too late to get involved. Anyone passionate about waste diversion, sustainability, economic development and climate action is welcome to join a task force. For more information, email Cameron Hawkins, YVSC Waste Diversion Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Yampa Valley Recycles app plays an important role in educating about recycling and will help our community make progress on all six of the strategic plan priorities, ultimately keeping more waste out of the landfill. Residents, visitors and businesses now have a resource at their fingertips to “recycle it right.”