The Pitkin County Solid Waste Center (PCSWC) was originally established, in its current location, as the Aspen Free Dump in 1965. For years since, the community has received public service announcements about the landfill nearing peak capacity.
The landfill has been pushing recycling and innovation to stymie the flow of mounting trash. Anything that can be recycled or reused is received at a much lower price than trash. Construction debris is the biggest culprit, contributing 53% of the waste at the dump.
On Friday, June 3, the Motherlode Mercantile opened to the public to aid in the recycling/reusing effort. Cathy Hall, the PCSWC director, joked that it is “the most popular retail store in Aspen right now…and it’s super fun.” Upon entering the landfill, pass the weigh station and the mercantile drop-off is located at an orange shipping container to the right.
Jade Bath has supervised this creative diversion of useful goods. ”Once we get it, and before we can even get it priced and stickered, somebody wants it,” she said.
Inside, plush chairs and framed artwork decorate the mercantile. Outside, there are an array of skis and bikes of all sizes, toilets and desks. Bath says they are “limited on big upholstered pieces because of space, so we may turn down a couch.”
The smaller building is temporary until funding for a larger building comes through. Most items cost $5 to $10 and all donations are tax-deductible. It is a pickers paradise, housing everything from antiques to brand new items. The Motherlode Mercantile has everything, plus the kitchen sink.
Valley residents can avoid Aspen sticker-shock by perusing the Motherlode Mercantile.
Aspen’s brimming landfill only had a year and a half of capacity left, until Pitkin County okayed an expansion, buying about seven additional years of landfill life. Even with this addition, there remains a need to recycle, reuse and divert items from entering the landfill. The Pitkin County Landfill is doing its part to reduce, reuse and recycle. In fact, it is the second-largest composter in Colorado.
According to Hall, ”Unincorporated Pitkin County has a diversion ordinance; so if you apply for a construction or demolition debris permit to tear down a house or build a new one, you have to divert 25% of your waste.”
The landfill recycles a considerable amount of the material created by the continuous cycle of construction and demolition in Aspen and Snowmass. The concrete from building teardowns is transformed into one-inch gravel and sold by the ton. Dirt and rocks from foundational work are converted into a topsoil and sold by the bag or ton.
Currently, construction and demolition waste costs $98 a ton. Some still choose to bypass this landfill in favor of more cost-saving options down valley. As the landfill reaches capacity, fees will continue to inflate. “We’re going to take those additional revenues that we charge and put in an additional construction and demolitions sorting and processing operation in the next couple of years,” Hall shared.
“We are a modern, permitted subtitle D landfill … we have to follow a stringent set of regulations,” Hall told The Sopris Sun. Tarping keeps the pests out, odors down and protects from stormwater seeping through. Still, decomposing trash creates leachate (“garbage juice”) that must be extracted from the landfill. Fortunately, there’s specific equipment for this dirty job.
Hall has a degree in geological science and an MBA and has worked in solid waste consulting and engineering for decades. ”We have 17 pieces of large equipment; the biggest piece is the compactor. That is the machine with the large teeth on it that compacts the waste,” she explained. “All it does is go up and down the trash all day long, smooshing the waste in. We are all about selling air space and conserving as much air space as we have in the landfill, so that machine just presses everything in. It weighs 95,000 pounds.”
“We have two dozers…a wood grinder…loaders [and] we have haul trucks. It’s like a five-year-old’s dream job.” Hall has been on the job for nine years and says she always wanted to run a landfill.