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May 2024

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Used plastic bottles in recycling bins for earth day campaign

Solid Waste Recycling On Shaky Ground

For over a year, Taos County Solid Waste has been told that the recycling part of their operation would be split into a separate Recycling Department with its own Recycling Coordinator, budget, and a few dedicated employees. On January 18, the county administration reversed that decision, telling Solid Waste Management that there would be no further investment of money or personnel to support the recycling effort.

It’s unclear what this will mean for those county residents who use the transfer stations to recycle cardboard, metal, electronics, and batteries. It’s very clear what it means for the Town of Taos—no recycling at all. Despite promises to the contrary, Town Council at this point will not move forward with turning over the Bertha Street Facility to Solid Waste and will not give them the needed additional personnel to operate it.

Getting to know Taos County Solid Waste hasn’t been high on my personal list of priorities, but the more I read about environmental crises, plastic in the bloodstream of infants, methane gas’ contribution to pollution, and more, I wanted to know how the waste in our area is being handled, what we citizens in Taos County could do to help, and how Solid Waste could help us start to recycle or repurpose what they cannot take.

I met with Edward Martinez, Director of Solid Waste, and Lorenzo Gutierrez, Code Compliance Officer and Recycling Official. I found these men who love to hike, fish, and hunt to be so genuinely concerned about Taos County and so committed to recycling that they have spent many extra hours, much physical labor and psychological exertion outside their duties to keep up with the increasing demands of recycling, despite being short-staffed during most of the COVID epidemic. They are anticipating that finally in February, they will be once again fully staffed.

Edward and Lorenzo explained in detail, how Solid Waste supports itself and has had a surplus for several years. Recycled products are a huge component of the Green Economy. Taos County’s fees are $120 per year per household, less than half of the next least expensive county in New Mexico (North Central Solid Waste fees are $268 per year). It makes sense to sell the cardboard and metal to bring income to the county and to the Recycling Program’s budget. They shared how willing they are to work with the community and with projects such as TiLT’s Repurposing Plastic Project in Taos and Questa to recycle plastic. Any potential project of turning food scraps to compost would save the county money and could bring additional income. Methane pollution would be reduced by not putting food scraps into the landfill. Each load in the landfill costs the county money, paid to the Town of Taos who operates it. Each cell in the landfill costs $2.5M to build. Seven total are planned to accept the 84 tons of garbage we generate every single day.

I was stunned by their openness to explain the whole operation and by Edward’s injunction, “WE NEED SUPPORT! We think we have pushed the recycling program up a steep hill and we’re almost at the top! But without the Taos County [administration’s] support, we will slide back down to the bottom.”

Edward and Lorenzo know they can run a recycling program that profits the county. They want to work with private, non-profit, educational, and governmental efforts, and they will continue to do so as long as they can. There is grant money out there, but they are not getting administration support to apply for it.

Lorenzo writes, “Since May 2022, we have recycled over a quarter of a million pounds of paper products and tons of metal goods not to mention the hundreds of cubic yards of organic materials, all diverted from the landfill. To accomplish this Mr. Daniel Young, myself and members of the Solid Waste team have taken on the responsibilities of two or three additional employees each. We have never complained or walked away from the additional workload because we believe that the service we provide is needed and essential to the environment and the quality of life we have come to expect in Taos County.”

The reality is that the few guys who have been working so hard with the promise of increased budget and personnel for recycling now feel underappreciated, not adequately compensated for this increased work, and they cannot physically keep this up with the current staff level, even as much as their passion to recycle drives them to try. They are buoyed by others on their team who pitch in to process recycling, some of the county commissioners and administration who are supportive, six feral cats who work with them, and citizens’ concern and enthusiasm for this important task that affects us all. Still, the decision to not support recycling was made.

Darlene Vigil (Commissioner District 3) and Jason Silva (Deputy County Manager) have asked that the decision be reconsidered. To be able to continue, Edward and Lorenzo ask for our help in letting Town Council, County Commissioners and their Administration know the importance of keeping and increasing recycling. Commissioners, Councillors and/or administration can be reached by mail, email, or phone. See contact info on page 16.

Do you care about recycling in Taos County? Contact your local officials:

Brent Jaramillo

County Manager
(575) 737-6304

F.R. Robert Romero
Commissioner District I
Landfill Board
(575) 779-0765

Miguel Romero, Jr.

Commissioner District 2 (represents Questa)
Phone: (575) 779-4203

Darlene Vigil
Commissioner District 3
(575) 779-2094

Letters can be addressed to

105 Albright Street, Taos, NM 87571

Mayor Pascualito Maestas
(575) 751-2002

Andrew Gonzales
Taos Town Manager
(575) 751-2002

Letters can be addressed to
400 Camino de la Placita, Taos, NM 87571