Talkin’ Trash

A pre-snow iteration of the Recycle Train, with my car prominently displayed ahead of the long line of recyclers. Sadly for all of us, I left my phone at home for the trip where I waded through a cattle drive both coming and going.

Perhaps this does not strike you as absurd, but it kind of does me: I have been driving my trash around the county, even getting up early to do so, and paying big bucks to dispose of it.

Let’s just note that I am not very good at throwing things away. As a child of the Iron Eyes Cody era — a Native American actor featured extensively in commercials where he paddled through junked-up rivers and shed a single tear for what had become of his ancestral land — I diligently hammered soda cans flat for recycling even at a young age.

Before “climate change” or even “global warming” became household terms, it seemed wasteful to me, and hard on the planet, to throw waste away. I recognize that whether I send it to a landfill or leave it reposing in my house, it is still here on the planet and still unwanted. It seems like there should be Other Options, and I am apparently determined to hang onto things until these options materialize.

So at one point I was saving all my plastics, even though our recycling center only takes numbers 1 and 2. I would haul my numbers 3-7 to other places, like Montrose or Arvada, that did accept these other numbers at their recycling centers. Lynn got tired of the accumulation, however, and then it became clear that a lot of “recycling” simply meant “sending our waste to other countries.”

At Pat’s we sell shirts that contain a percentage of recycled pop bottles, and our deck here at home is made of recycled plastic bags, so there must be some actual recycling somewhere, but these days a lot of my plastic just goes straight into the trash.

Now Sustainable CB has come along to help me. This is an organization, up in Crested Butte, that was started a few years back by a high school student who not only was distressed over single-use plastic bags, but determined to do something about it. While some of us, like me, have grand thoughts but never launch them, young Ben Swift — who is going big places in life, I am sure — marshaled forces, attended public meetings, sewed bags out of old T-shirts, and got an ordinance passed banning single-use plastic bags in Crested Butte. All before he got out of high school.

Now a full-fledged non-profit with a board that includes Mr. Swift, gone off to college, as an emeritus member and his mother as an active member, Sustainable CB has embarked on a relatively new project: their monthly Recycle Train.

They have coordinated with a vast recycling center in Boulder (essentially, Crested Butte on steroids) that takes an astounding array of objects, toilets to clothing to Styrofoam to paperboard and plastic such as bags, overwrap and bubblewrap — an item their younger volunteers take great delight in flattening. Bicycles. Bike tires. Electronics. Clothing. Juice and milk cartons. That white Styrofoam, of which I had a great deal in the aftermath of the arrival of two heat presses. And, as of a month ago, e-waste like CDs and video tapes.

So in October I — yes, me — got up and on the road in time to get my trash to the Crested Butte School parking lot by 9 a.m. Since then the group has moved to a much more reasonable noon start time, so every month I load my car up with trash, drive 54 miles round-trip and hand over money just so someone will haul away my trash in what I hope is a responsible manner.

To be fair, there are still a lot of points in my favor. I drive a car that is 74 percent powered by sunshine, and if I put all this trash in the Dumpster at work I would be paying for it to be hauled to the landfill, which is six miles east of Gunnison via lumbering trash truck. I think it’s illegal to put things like printers and TVs in the landfill, although I’m sure people do it.

And let us certainly not negate the charm of navigating my way through Curtis Allen’s cattle drive one month. Probably since long before he was born, Curtis’ family has moved cattle north and south of Crested Butte, driving them straight through town in what I like to think of as a first-hand look at where our food comes from but which many of my fellow drivers seemed to regard as a nuisance impeding their rush to their obviously important destinations. Every time I moved over to give the cattle more space, the drivers behind me took it as license to bolt right past.

Not every month features such throwbacks to the history of our area; this past Saturday I endured an extremely cold drive in 13-degree temperatures because Oz insists on riding with his window down.

This might have also been the month where I find myself hopping off the monthly Recycle Train.

I saved my business some money when one of the volunteers turned out to be the STEM teacher at the CB school, and she was very excited to take all of the CDs containing ancient shop software that I had brought. Apparently her students use them to make drone parts and art objects — win win, saving me money and putting the discs to re-use.

But they didn’t want to take my two tubs-worth of paperboard, almost half my contribution to the January “train.” Our local recycle center stopped taking this some time ago, so I was excited to have a place to go with it other than the trash. But now Sustainable CB doesn’t want it, after telling me they did.

They are trying not to duplicate existing recycling options in the valley, which I appreciate, but we’ve hit one of those non-infrequent up-valley/down-valley snags. Everyone in Crested Butte is a Waste Management customer; almost no one in Gunnison is.

Apparently Waste Management will take, at its facility south of Crested Butte, plastics 1-7 and paperboard. But while the Sustainable volunteer assured me that non-customers can make use of this service, which also costs additional money, I have my doubts.

Waste Management’s global website, long on platitudes, is terribly short on actual, useful information, like rates, locations, and who can drop items off at their facility. This could bring me full circle back to the days Lynn remembers so fondly, where I stash trash in every corner of our garage with no real place to take it for disposal. Considerable space is already given over to the items we can take — free of charge — to the county recycle center just south of the airport.

For now, then, my joy in the recycle choo-choo sadly diminished, my plastics 3-7 and flat cardboard (no corrugation) will remain headed for the landfill, and my trips to Crested Butte limited to those months when I have e-waste and electronics, or textiles and plastic in bag form.

Never mind: there is still the promise of a future trip to Montrose, for the recycling that brings me the most satisfaction: I will take our old heat press and other cast-aside metal bits to Recla Metals (in a gas-powered car), where they will pay me for my trash. It might amount to a whole dollar, but there is something eminently satisfying about saving the planet while getting paid for it, no matter how nominally.

In the meantime, if I can’t recycle, I guess ought to work on reducing and re-using. Wish me luck.

The problem in this video is theft, but look how much gets left behind that is “undesirable.”

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