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Waste Diversion in Chaffee County

Photo Credit: Randy Schwitzer

Have you been wondering about the status of recycling in Chaffee County? Have you heard someone mention that there is no recycling in Chaffee and wondered if it was true, or that the recycling just gets landfilled anyway, so why bother? Know that there is recycling available in Chaffee County and it does reduce landfill-waste and negative environmental impact, and many community partners are working together to continually improve Chaffee County’s local waste diversion efforts. 

A recent grant through Chaffee County Community Foundation will allow the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA) to partner with Elements Mountain Compost and others to continue expanding waste diversion and waste diversion education in Chaffee County.

 Those who are curious about both easy and hard to recycle items in Chaffee County can use a dynamic and current recycling guide at This guide has been developed to help local residents and businesses understand what can be recycled and composted and how to do so.

Three commercial operators offer curbside recycling in Chaffee County and accept items such as glass, aluminum, clean cardboard, and plastics #1-7. One of FIBArk’s waste diversion partners, Diversion Designers, recently confirmed that these materials are recycled through Green for Life, the company where two of our local haulers take their recycling to on the Front Range at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). However, plastics #3-7 have a volatile commodities market, so recyclers should be aware that these plastics don’t always get recycled, depending on the market at that time. Those who are concerned about their plastic usage will want to try to avoid plastics #3-7 in particular, as they may not be as recyclable.  However, aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times, and glass is part of a closed recycling loop here in Colorado, as glass gets recycled and reused by Coors Bottling Company. 

One of the issues with hauling Chaffee County’s recycling to the Front Range is that waste haulers are fuel inefficient and generate significant emissions. It also takes significant staff time for the hauling companies and creates an additional stressor for these businesses in a tight labor market. One of the solutions being pursued is development of a local transfer station where waste and recyclables can be compacted and loaded into larger trucks for more efficient transport. Chaffee County government staff are actively working to seek and secure grant funding to design and construct  a transfer station in Chaffee County.  The County is also monitoring the state’s Extended Producer Responsibility program participation options, as this state-wide fund will ultimately help support recycling and waste diversion programs across communities like ours. Another barrier is that not all Chaffee County residences are eligible for curbside recycling service. Those who live in hard-to-reach places may find they can’t get service and should reach out to GARNA directly if they’d like to recycle.

This year, with support from City of Salida, GARNA, the Chaffee County Community Foundation grant and funds from Bonfire Entertainment’s 2022 Renewal Festival, FIBArk was able to divert over 73% of waste generated during the festival, including 9590 pounds of single stream recycling, 250 pounds of scrap wood, 48 pounds of vinyl signs, 8 pounds of soft plastic, 8 barrels from the Hooligan Race, 100 pounds of food donated to the Salida Community Center, and 10,000 pounds of organics to be converted into compostThe scrap wood was donated and found a new life as an American Ninja Warrior Course constructed by a local resident for his kids and neighborhood, and the Hooligan barrels were repurposed as free rain barrels. 

“The City of Salida and its Sustainability Committee are excited to see the results of the partnership between FIBArk organizers and Diversion Designers and encourage all festivals and events to consider recycling in their planning,” said Salida City Council member Jane Templeton. 

GARNA and partners are also working with the coordinators of Buena Vista’s Gold Rush Days to increase the waste diversion in August.

Composting organic materials is one of the single most impactful ways we can divert waste because 30-40% of our “municipal solid waste” is green, or compostable material. When landfilled instead of composted, these materials anaerobically decompose and generate green-house gasses such as methane that are four times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. Chaffee County is fortunate to have Elements Mountain Compost, a local composting business that continues to grow and contribute to the local circular economy, using community organics drop-off stations and working with businesses to turn their food scraps into soil amendment. 

“It can be hard to compost at home in our arid climate but on a larger scale we can replicate nature’s aerobic decomposition process to capture and recycle the nutrients in organic waste and feed those nutrients right back into our gardens and farms,” states Julie Mach of Elements Compost. Residents can learn more about Elements Mountain Compost and their work at 

Elements will continue to host its popular “Green Drinks” events for public discussions about local sustainability issues. The next gathering will be October 20th from 5:00-8:00pm at Elevation Beer Co, and will feature Recycle Colorado speaking  as well as an update on the County’s Sustainable Development Plan. Details at

In fall of 2023, partners will convene to discuss more reuse and reduce tactics for Chaffee’s Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste, involving local contractors in a conversation about materials that contribute a large amount of landfill waste.

To support all of these efforts, please consider volunteering or donating to GARNA, signing up for food waste composting or purchasing compost thru Elements Mountain Compost.

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GARNA works with communities of the upper Arkansas River valley to foster the stewardship of the region’s natural environment and the resilience of our communities.

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