SPET by SPET: Road to Zero Waste now has a passing lane

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Teton County Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling (ISWR) is on a Road to Zero Waste and voters have an opportunity this November to put a little wind in their sails.

The lofty initiative undertaken by ISWR is similar to any of the more than fifty other communities nationwide that have also pledged to get to a point where they throw nothing away. It’s good for the health of the environment, but along the way, it also conserves resources, saves money, and creates jobs.

The first question many might have, especially if they are asked to tax themselves for it, is: Is zero waste an achievable goal?

Brenda Ashworth absolutely thinks zero waste is a place Teton County can get to. Ashworth is the Superintendent of Solid Waste and Recycling and she thought long and hard before she committed to getting on “the road.”

“I really do think it’s achievable with some modifications to our behavior,” Ashworth maintains. “We have a plan. It was put together with real numbers. It is not a pie in the sky reach.”

Efforts to reduce the waste stream have already resulted in the diversion of 34% of discards from ever hitting the landfill. In 2014, the town and county decided to double-down on that progress. They signed a resolution committing the valley to get to a 60% diversion rate by 2030—a number that would surpass the national average and make Jackson Hole a leader in the zero waste community.

Okay then, what’s our $2.5M get us?

The specific purpose excise tax initiative for $2,500,000 was vetted and extensively researched, Ashworth says, with careful cost-benefit analysis going into every item ISWR feels it needs to better serve the community by keeping waste from hitting the landfill and ensuring the county’s recyclables remain a desirable commodity in a shrinking market.

“This is a significant capital outlay, we know that,” Ashworth says. “We researched everything we thought we need plus a 3% aggregate for inflation. We visited various sorting system sites to see what they do. We talked to vendors, and did a pretty detailed cost-benefit analysis for each item.”

ISWR plans to expand the floor of the sorting area by taking the residential dropoff point outdoors under a covered canopy. It will allow for more staff to sort more recyclables quicker. And in the recycling game, sorting it everything.

The market for recyclables has cratered. That’s not news to most. But an upswing is hopefully just around the corner as technology advancements are made like turning trash into energy. Until then Teton County is smartly positioned in the market, mainly because our trash don’t stink.

Seriously, though, the practice of source separation at the collection site combined with a second comb-through at the facility has helped the county earn a reputation for having clean recyclables and therefore a place in the market.

As computer programmers say: Garbage in, garbage out. Keeping cardboard separated from glass separated from aluminum at the dropoff sites makes a huge impact on lessening the load down the line of picking through trash. The better care we take, the less has to be done at the facility and the more the county can make selling its trash as recyclables.

A new, expanded sorting facility will aid in that process, automating some processes and providing more room for more employees where hands-on work is required.

A portion $2.5M outlay will also be used to install a truck weigh station at the recycling center will increase efficiency in weighing commodities on-site and allow ISWR to more accurately collect and track data and revenue. It’s good for customers, too — businesses will know exactly what they’re throwing away and have measurable data to set goals and get better.

And finally, food waste. $350,000 will be designated for food waste sorting equipment. Sorting equipment will remove contamination from food waste and allow for a more efficient sorting process. It’s safer for operators, results in less rejection of loads, and ultimately provides a cleaner, higher-quality end product ISWR can then sell to contractors.  That’s important for several reasons:

Food is heavy. It is also one of the least desirable things Ashworth wants to see in the landfill. Its soluble nature means food waste will leach more into the soil and potentially get to groundwater or nearby streams and rivers. That’s no good.

But inedible food is a useful composting resource. In fact, ISWR has a longstanding and successful composting program already in place with Terra Firma. Knowing exactly how much (in terms of weight) food is going into the facility is crucial to Terra Firma and landfill managers.

Several businesses are what ISWR calls “early adopters” who have pledged their help in implementing best practices regarding throwing away food. Large hotels and restaurants have, to varying degrees, begun to implement food supply chains down the line that have been effective in keeping food waste from ever getting to the landfill.

Organizations like Hole Food Rescue and others have been working hard to give day-old edible items a second chance at being eaten. Even after food has reached a point where human consumption might be iffy, efforts have been made to get that food to pets and livestock.

ISWR is working to get these early adopters on board and trained up for a more holistic effort next summer.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s working. And it could work better for decades to come with a community investment made through SPET.

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