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Chaffee County landfill
Chaffee County is getting $4 million from the EPA to build a recycling transfer station at its landfill, which is located between Buena Vista and Salida. The money comes from the national infrastructure law set aside $275 million over five years. (David Krause, The Colorado Sun)

Chaffee County was awarded $4 million in EPA funding Wednesday for a new waste transfer, recycling and composting station, offering a boost to the Upper Arkansas Valley beset by private recycling closures and other trash logistics challenges. 

The EPA also gave $450,938 to Colorado officials to “improve solid waste management planning and data collection in communities across the state,” as part of a new waste and recycling fund created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

“As a small, rural community, Chaffee County has struggled for many years to establish permanent, holistic solid waste diversion and materials recovery systems,” deputy Chaffee County administrator Beth Helmke said in a release from the EPA. “Constructing a local transfer station and materials recovery facility here will be transformational for our region’s approach to recycling and waste management.” 

Chaffee County plans to use the EPA money to build on 5 acres of the existing county landfill, which sits off Highway 285 between Salida and Buena Vista. The transfer station and recycling handling facility will include a public drop site, the EPA said. A county spokesperson said the project is in very early stages and it would be at least a year or two before the new site opens.

 Many state and local governments are pushing to improve recycling and reduce retail packaging, as well as composting natural materials that make up a large part of the waste stream, as one way of reducing greenhouse gases emanating from landfill-created methane. 

Colorado has one of the lowest rates of recycling and compost diversion from the waste stream. The material diverted from Chaffee County’s landfill under the current process often must be driven hundreds of miles for sorting and processing, the EPA said. 

State legislators have set up a production materials review council that will assess industry fees and promote recycling of consumer packaging around the state. 

“Municipal solid waste and organic wastes constitute 60% of waste currently sent to landfill; an estimated 90% of that material is recyclable or compostable,” the release said. 

In 2021 the private Chaffee County recycler Angel of Shavano, named for a permanent snow shelf looming over the valley on Mount Shavano, shut down because of slow revenue and consumers’ failure to sort their waste. Front Range consumers are frequently criticized for the same mistakes, putting plastics or glass in composting loads that ruin sorting and composting machinery or contaminate potential soil. 

Angel of Shavano Recycling said it had handled 4 million pounds of recyclables in the year before it shut down in April 2021. 

The national infrastructure law set aside $275 million over five years for what EPA calls the largest federal investment in recycling in 30 years. The Chaffee County award was one of 25 U.S. communities receiving $73 million. 

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...