Recycling a top priority for Los Alamos

-A A +A
By Gabriel Vasquez

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has recognized Los Alamos County for having the state’s second highest recycling rate.

According to the NMED, Lincoln County recycled the most, 67 percent of its solid-waste in 2007, a figure attributed to the county's composting of large quantities of green waste.

Regina Wheeler, Los Alamos County Solid Waste Division Manager, said the NMED calculates recycling rates using guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency, but those guidelines do not account for the total material actually recycled in the county.

Wheeler estimates the recycling rate for Los Alamos County to be 40 percent, although the state lists that figure at closer to 20 percent.

“They don’t count the concrete we recycle,” she said. “The concrete recycling is really important because not only does it keep it out of the landfill, but local projects get to use the recycled material instead of going down the hill to get them.”

Specifically, Wheeler said that the Diamond Drive construction project has benefited from using recycled concrete from the landfill to turn into pavement base material, which has brought down the total cost of the project.

“The tonnage of that material is not included in the state’s number of 20 percent, but as you can see it’s really an important part of our [recycling] program,” Wheeler said.

Despite having the second-highest recycling rate, Wheeler said there are still things local residents can do to improve that number.

She estimates that about 80 percent of households are currently using the curb-side roll cart recycling service, but that number could easily be boosted.

“Everybody has it, it’s available to everyone so there’s really no reason not to [use it],” she said.

Wheeler said the county’s recycling program is now allowing for the safe disposal of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). CFLs contain small amounts of mercury that can contribute to air and water pollution if not properly disposed.

Only three percent of CFLs are properly disposed in the U.S.

The Los Alamos County Solid Waste Division also plans to finish construction on a $6.5 million “Eco Station” in November. The project broke ground in Aug. 2, 2007, and will be located at the county landfill on Jemez Road. It will be open to all residents and have a paved entrance and enclosed transfer station.

“It will have everything that the landfill provides today, as far as services and disposal,” Wheeler said. “We think it will increase the recycling rate because it will give us a chance to divert more material.”

The new facility will not only enable greener practices in the county, but the building itself is targeting to meet LEED gold certification, one of the top standards set by U.S Green Building Council for environmentally sustainable construction.

The administration building at the Eco Station will have solar heating and hot water, thanks to a $100,000 grant from New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

The Eco Station is the county’s first green building project.

Additionally, the county plans on scheduling a monthly collection of household hazardous waste this summer, and initiating a television collection program to help customers dispose of their old television sets.

“Because of the HDTV switchover we’re going to begin recycling old TVs, although it’s going to cost us $10,000,” Wheeler said.

The nationwide analog-to-digital TV transition is scheduled for Feb. 17, 2009.

Another reason for the county’s successful recycling program was the continuous support from the county council, Wheeler said.

“They [council] are the ones that directed the roll cart curb recycling program,” she said. “They’ve always been really supportive of anything we can do to make recycling easier.”

According to county statistics, during the first three months of the roll-cart recycling program, about 40 percent more material was collected for recycling.

On average, 11 percent of solid-waste is recycled in New Mexico, compared with four to five percent earlier this decade. The statewide recycling rate was 9.74 percent in 2006 and 10.96 percent in 2007.

“We’ve more than doubled the rate of recycling in New Mexico since the beginning of the Richardson administration in 2003,” said Secretary Ron Curry in a release. “While this is good news, we plan to continue this effort until this recycling becomes second nature for residents.”

After Los Alamos, Torrance County received third place, followed by Chaves in third place, and Bernalillo in fourth for achieving the highest recycling rates among counties in 2007.

“People here are really committed to recycling,” Wheeler said. “They do what it takes.”