“If nothing else, we’re noble”
By Alissa Johnson
Despite warnings that things could get a little messy, the Crested Butte Town Council has opted to step into the fray of summer garbage management. It has directed staff to pursue the short-term placement of a Dumpster in town where backcountry campers can drop off refuse. The idea is to provide a place for trash drop-off before a better solution can be implemented at trailheads.
Council discussed the issue at its June 18 meeting, looking for a solution to unwanted trash that ends up in the Dumpsters of local business like the Gas Café and Old Town Inn. Backcountry campers and travelers leave their trash at businesses around town before leaving the area, overwhelming their trash receptacles and contaminating recycling with garbage.
As town manager Dara MacDonald explained, Gas Café owner Eric Tunkey happened to call town offices just as staff were looking into the matter, and he expressed frustration at the way his trash and recycling get overrun during the summer.
These business owners “bear some of the burden,” MacDonald noted. Yet the question of how to alleviate the problem is not necessarily an easy one to figure out. According to Joy Cunningham of Waste Management of Colorado, problems abound.
“A lot of visitors come from where it’s a single stream, so they think everything goes in one container—and it’s not that way in this valley. It has to be sorted,” she said, noting that the recycling facility in Grand Junction, where Waste Management sends recycling, rejects contaminated loads.
At the same time, “If Dumpsters are locked and no one is watching, people will set the trash on top.” That often leads to problems with bears, fox, dogs and birds.
And the problems aren’t limited to tourists, either. Cunningham cautioned the council that public Dumpsters often become inundated with things like mattresses and electronics, which are expensive to dispose of. For example, the Gunnison County landfill no longer accepts mattresses because they float up out of the landfill; that means they have to be delivered to the Front Range for $80 each. The question then becomes: If people abuse a public Dumpster, who will pay for these additional expenses?
Yet trash is already a problem. According to Tunkey, the Gas Café gets trash bags from campers all day long.
“They put it on top of the Dumpster, to the side, and they bang the cardboard recycling so they can stuff trash into that. So that’s contaminated. I may be one of the only gas stations in America that offers recycling, and June 15 through October it mostly gets thrown away because they all put trash in it,” Tunkey said.
What’s more, he noted, when he gives visitors directions to the transfer station for proper disposal of garbage, they don’t want to drive outside of town.
“If the Dumpster were emptied more frequently at your place and supplemented the more frequent pickup, is that a solution for you?” asked mayor Jim Schmidt.
“One Dumpster is not the answer,” Tunkey replied. “You’re talking two or three Dumpsters and if there’s recycling, you’ll want an employee there [to monitor it] and they’re not a dime a dozen. I don’t know the answer, but I don’t think it should be the burden of a private Dumpster to pay for it.”
Tunkey did point out that at national parks, he’d seen impressive collection areas for garbage and recycling.
“That’s something the Sustainable Tourism & Outdoor Recreation [STOR] committee is working toward,” responded councilmember Chris Haver. “Our thinking is, what can we do in the meantime in town? We don’t want to be the long-term dump for our trailheads.”
He and councilmember Paul Merck both thought the STOR committee would be open to working on a solution at trailheads sooner rather than later. That was amenable to the council and staff, who thought trash receptacles at trailheads would be less likely to get abused. Cunningham pointed out, however, that Waste Management trucks would need to be able to reach the locations.
Councilmember Kent Cowherd was “reluctant to kick the can down the road to STOR.” He wanted to see something in town this summer, even if there was abuse because it matches the council’s values of resource efficiency and environmental stewardship.
“I agree,” Merck said, as did the entire council, despite the known problems with public garbage collection. As Schmidt pointed out, they would find out how much the receptacle got abused and make a decision from there as to whether to leave it in place or pull it.
“So do we plunge in and say go ahead and order a Dumpster, knowing that if it’s picked up three times a week it’s $660 a month?” Schmidt asked.
“I think it’s a noble gesture and probably needs to be solved but history will repeat itself here,” said MacDonald.
“If nothing else, we’re noble,” Schmidt quipped.
“I’d say try it for two months until the end of August,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell.
Council directed staff to work out the details to place a Dumpster near the Chamber of Commerce visitor’s center, and councilmembers planned to talk with the STOR committee about establishing other long-term solutions.