An apparent setback has now set the stage for new opportunities in environmental protection.
The Taos Regional Landfill Board had voted this past September to close the Taos Recycling Center. According to The Taos News, the decision reflected the $1.5 million annual cost of operation, the low rate (7.6 percent) of uncontaminated materials diverted from the waste stream, and the shrinking global market for recyclables. Taos Town Manager Rick Bellis, interviewed for this report, also cited the lack of broad community involvement, noting that prior to closure, the center served only about 120 users.
We might attribute the closing to a negative cost-benefit analysis, but Bellis maintains that it was intended to force the issue and increase pressure on the region and state to create an integrated recycling system. Apparently, this has had the desired effect, as municipalities are currently meeting together and coordinating with state and national officials.
Taos Mayor Dan Barrone has met with Governor Lujan-Grisham, who identifies environmental sustainability as a top priority. Taos is working with State Senator Bobby Gonzales on a sustainability bill to set standards for recycling and create new markets. This initiative has the support of US Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján.
In light of these developments, the town council decided in November to reopen Taos’s recycling center this month. As reported in The Taos News, the center will begin by accepting cardboard, with more items to follow, depending on the success of local, regional, and statewide initiatives; the availability of state and national funds; finding new outlets for recyclables; and increased participation by residents.
Surplus recycling fees will fund operations through the end of June 2022, but Bellis emphasizes that this is not a “hard deadline,” and the town expects the center to remain open beyond that date. Recycling will now be free for individuals, while commercial recyclers will pay a modest fee.
Meanwhile, the town has drafted an “8-point plan” for environmental sustainability, to be shared with the public through newspaper announcements and utility bill inserts. The plan supports the national “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act,” which addresses recycling standards and funding, while regulating contaminants and single-use plastics. It requires industry to reduce waste through modified product design and packaging and to assume responsibility for reuse, collection, recycling, and disposal of what they produce, building those costs into product pricing. It also aims to “prevent product and packaging waste from entering into animal and human food chains and waterways.” Identical House and Senate bills have been stalled in committee since March, 2021, but Senator Luján intends to reintroduce the Senate version in the new year.
Locally, support for the Break Free Act translates into a ban on single-use plastics, including grocery bags, take-out containers, straws, etc.—already in effect, with a grace period through December 2022 to give local businesses time to comply.
The plan envisions partnerships with private recycling services and local groups such as TiLT and RYNO (see previous Questa Del Rio News articles), which re-purpose plastic waste as building materials.
The 8-point plan also calls for Taos to engage with other municipalities to create a regional recycling board and to help draft state-level plastic and recycling regulations. According to Bellis, these discussions are in progress.
A community advisory board will oversee implementation of the plan, appointed by the mayor and council comprising town and county officials, officials of other county municipalities, and citizens representing business and advocacy groups.