For 20 years, recycling efforts in Taos have been directed at saving space and extending the life of the landfill. But the practice of recycling may not be as friendly on the wallets and as effective in waste management as many may think.
Those in Taos who take the extra effort to sort through their garbage or designate a recycle box in their homes take their materials to the Taos Recycling Center at 201 Bertha Street, which prevents those materials from taking up room at the landfill. From glass to old computers, the recycling center provides a service for the community to get rid of its recyclable materials.
But the center ultimately comes at a cost to the community and, by extension, the taxpayers. Recycled materials are only worth what the market is willing to pay for them, and operational costs at the center do not fluctuate much over the years.
Town officials say in recent years the recycling center has not been able to cover its operating costs, and they are looking for more revenue streams to keep it going.
“Our goal was to have the waste stream reduced over at the landfill by recycling,” said town of Taos Director of Public Works Francisco Espinoza. “The Taos community is pretty good about recycling.”
The Taos Recycle Center now collects ten different products such as plastics, paper, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans. In previous years, the center was only able to collect four products.
These items are collected and stored by the town until they can sell them. In 2017, the Recycle Center collected 2,968 tons of recycled material.
The premise of recycling in Taos is to free up space in designated landfill cells that are filled up with refuse on a seven-year lifespan, according to Espinoza. Cells fill up with waste at an average rate of 31,402 tons per year. In Taos, recycled materials avoid the landfill, ultimately resulting in 9,207 cubic yards of space saved every year in the landfill cells. This is important to town officials due to the $2 million cost of building a new cell at the landfill.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American creates about 4.38 pounds of solid waste per day. This waste includes packaging material, food wastes, electronics and even batteries. Much of this waste can either be composted or recycled for future use.
“We don’t need to keep extracting natural resources when some of the stuff should be reused,” said resident Laurie Deyoung, dropping off material at the recycling center recently. “I recycle for the better utilization of natural resources. I’m really glad (the town) is doing this.”
Deyoung, who lives in Taos a portion of the year, said she would travel to Española or Colorado to find a place to take recyclables if Taos did not have a center.
The recycling center can profit from the materials collected by selling them to various companies at market prices. Several companies out of Albuquerque and other areas purchase the material from the town, and the material is then used to make new products. In 2016-17, the center brought in $59,800 in revenue for 1,277 tons of recycled material shipped out, up from the prior year of 1,190 tons recycled and sold for $51,900.
While the center may have brought in more money than the previous year, revenues are down from the high of $129,100 collected in 2010-11. The numbers have been on a downward trend since.
“Recycling is a feel-good program,” said Espinoza. “People don’t realize that it actually takes a good amount of resources to accomplish, and that boils down to finances.”
Three town employees make up the recycling center staff, who regularly sort through and move the materials to stationing areas ready to be picked up.
Glass is one area the recycling center is looking at possibly discontinuing as few buyers demand glass, according to Espinoza. The glass recycled at the center is ground up and used as construction material, often for roadways and pavement, but is currently piling up behind the facility’s drop-off zone. The town has no immediate plans to discontinue glass collection, but said the cost of crushing the glass down exceeds the revenues they make from selling it.
Since 2015, operational costs to keep the center open have been on the rise, peaking at 2017-18’s cost of $300,402. Various fees and taxes are needed to finance the budget of the recycling center since the center cannot cover its own costs by selling the recyclable material alone. Prices for the recycled material fluctuate almost daily, according to market buyers, and the town must rely on these prices to gain revenue from the products.
In an effort to alleviate some of the burden from the town and ultimately to reduce wastes, The Taos Launchpad has started its own efforts of recycling and hopes to partner with the town by collecting plastics and electronics for recycling. Currently, the new makerspace in Taos collects old electronics to fix and re-use, but is looking into collecting plastic to melt down as filament for the 3-D printers the group uses in its curriculum.
“It’s pointless to contribute to the waste stream by buying new filaments,” said Taos Launchpad founder Kyle Butler. “I would much rather run all of our products off recycled plastics. We would like to repair the stuff that can be fixed, otherwise, break it down and use the components for other projects.”
The recycling center is open 7 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and is open 7 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays. Plastics must be rinsed and dry before depositing at the center.