Joint effort underway to create recycling, composting facility

A culmination of ideas, leading to cooperation between various local government agencies, could soon determine how the Pagosa area treats its trash.

Recent suggestions for expanding the county’s recycling facility on Trujillo Road has opened the door for a more comprehensive plan, to include a composting facility. According to PAWSD Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger, “PAWSD and the town have been working towards the composting facility idea for years but only recently has it appeared that we may have the economy of scale in biosolids production for it to be feasible to go forward more earnestly.”

Last fall the county, town and PAWSD entered an intergovernmental agreement and all entities paid for a feasibility study to determine the best method of alternative treatment of biosolids.

“When the final report was prepared, the original staff working on this met,” Berger said, “and that is when we discussed dovetailing the composting facility effort with the county’s plans for a recycling facility and co-locating the facilities at the transfer station site.”

Currently, PAWSD collects biosolids (waste solids) from its Vista wastewater treatment facility, only to dispose of them at the county dump. According to PAWSD Project Manager Gregg Mayo, those biosolids could be put to better use than just taking up space in a landfill. Mayo says that intelligent disposal of the biosolids would have multiple benefits.

“It could be used for composting,” Mayo said. “With the addition of bulking agents such as feedstock, grass clippings, tree branches, even construction garbage such as wood or drywall, mixed together, it makes an excellent soil amendment.”

Mayo said that the composting process takes about 60 days, at which time the compost could be added to gardens or lawns.

“It’s perfectly safe and it helps retain water,” Mayo said, adding, “you don’t have to water as much with it. Plus, composting bulking agents, instead of just taking it to the dump would make a significant dent in what’s going into the landfill.”

With the county opening a new cell in its landfill to accommodate local waste, it’s clear that space for dumping garbage is at a premium.

“If we’re composting that material instead of just dumping it, we could be looking at opening a new cell every ten years instead of every other year,” Mayo said.

On the recycling end, the county hopes to free itself from reliance on the Durango recycling facility for processing Pagosa area commodities. By purchasing balers (for processing metal, paper and plastic) and a crusher for pulverizing glass, Archuleta County would eliminate the need for trucking its materials to the Durango facility — not exactly the greenest solution — and would be able to sell its recyclables to purchasers. Currently, with the exception of aluminum collected at the Archuleta County transfer station, the Durango facility keeps the money from the sale of Archuleta County materials. With a fully functional recycling facility, Archuleta County would keep the money from the sales.

Recently, a group calling itself the Recycling and Composting Project Study Group has met, composed of representatives from the town, county, PAWSD, the U.S. Forest Service and the Pagosa Lakes Property Owners Association, to investigate how to proceed with the joint facility. Among the issues facing the Recycling and Composting Project, funding is primary. Although PAWSD has requested about $150,000 in stimulus package money to fund a composting facility, the group will need somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million for the purchase of recycling equipment and staff for the expanded facility.

Contingent on funding, permitting, and a host of other factors, the Recycling and Composting Project group does not foresee the facility being operational until spring 2010.