In a presentation to the board of commissioners on Monday, Shak Powers, manager of the Montezuma County Landfill, said he wants to see less food waste in the dump.
Southwest Colorado composts just 1 percent of its organic waste, according to data Powers brought to the meeting. He said he would like to see more organic waste going to compost instead of the landfill.
Melissa Mathews, environmental health specialist of the Montezuma County Public Health Department, said she hopes to work with Powers and local grocery stores to put more edible food in the hands of those in need instead of in the trash.
As part of his monthly report to the commissioners, Powers outlined the five-year “waste diversion goals” recently announced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. He said he’s not sure the state will be able to enforce some of its goals, such as banning all recyclable materials from landfills.
“I think it’s a well-intentioned goal,” he said. “However, I don’t think a mandate’s going to lead to anything but filled-up arroyos and ditches.”
By 2026, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expects cities and counties to meet the national average, according to a report by The Durango Herald.
By 2036, the state health department wants to see 45 percent of waste diverted from state landfills. The goals will not be enforced, but they are intended to encourage greater recycling and composting, said Wolf Kray, an environmental protection specialist in the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division.
Powers presented data from the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments showing Colorado residents compost about 3 percent of all organic waste, which is low compared with many other states. Southwest Colorado composts even less, at about 1 percent.
Powers said it’s in the county’s best interest to have less organic waste in the landfill, because too much of it can cause environmental hazards like methane gas. It’s also one of the few types of waste that can be put to practical use, he said.
Powers has estimated that about 21 tons of food waste is dumped in the landfill each week. He has said that The Montezuma County Landfill has had the permits to compost food waste for about a year and accepts food waste from residents for free.
On Monday, he asked for the commissioners’ blessing to meet with the county’s garbage haulers and come up with an incentive for them to divert more organic waste to compost.
Table to Farm Compost, a Durango business, picks up food scraps from 150 residential customers and four restaurants in town, which equates to about 150 to 200 gallons of organic material a day, owner David Golden said late last year.
Since launching in 2016, the company has grown steadily and operates within the city of Durango and Durango West II.
Mathews said she wants to go one step further by working with local grocery stores to ensure that less food is thrown away in the first place. She cited a recent study that showed only about half the county’s qualified food assistance recipients are getting food stamps, and said it inspired her department to start brainstorming more ways to provide nutritious food to those in need.
Many local stores and restaurants already donate nonperishable food to soup kitchens and food pantries, she said, but they don’t often give away healthy options, like fruits and vegetables.
“Looking at the products that are at our soup kitchens, you know, they’re donuts, cookies – really not substantially healthy foods,” she said. “Are we really benefiting by donating those types of foods?”
She said she believes the mandates CDPHE has proposed could give the county an opportunity to “start the conversation” with local food vendors about where their unused products go, and whether they could be put to better use.
Powers and Mathews didn’t offer details about how they plan to implement their goals, but the commissioners said they would support them.
“I think you should proceed with whatever becomes feasible,” Commissioner Keenan Ertel said.
Mathews said she would look into grants that could help the county start a food donation or composting program.
Reporter Mary Shinn of The Durango Herald contributed to this article.