MARCH 18, 2019 BY 

Article adapted from Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Plastic cups are recyclable. Plastic bottles are recyclable, but be sure to remove the cap, which isn’t recyclable. Plastic straws aren’t recyclable and should go in the trash. Plastic plates can be recycled if you clean all of the food off them. Plastic bags can be recycled, but not in your curbside bin; they have to be dropped off at a local grocery store.

And that’s just the nuances of recycling plastic.

Yampa Valley Recycles is now a smartphone and web application that allows users to input an item, and then learn if it is recyclable and how to recycle it. The application replaces the Sustainability Council’s old recycling guide with one that staff said is easier to use and more user-friendly.

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Waste Diversion Director Cameron Hawkins hopes the application will help more people recycle and improve the rate of recycling in Routt County.

The application also features a waste sorting game, which allows users to work through different levels of recycling difficulty. In level one, players sort paper envelopes and soda cans. By level five, players are sorting grass clippings, toilets and thermometers. Hawkins said this exercise can help people understand how to sort and will “hopefully dispel some of the myths when it comes to curbside recycling.”

“We’re suffering from a confusion crisis when it comes to recycling right now, and people are not sure what to put in their curbside bin,” Hawkins said. “By playing the game, hopefully, you can learn what can actually go in your curbside recycling bin and what can be recycled elsewhere in the county.”

Hawkins is able to pull data from the app to see what users are typing in most frequently. The Sustainability Council can then use this data to add new entries to the guide and learn what people are having trouble recycling. If certain types of waste regularly appear in searches, Hawkins can work that item into the waste sorting game and other marketing efforts to help improve people’s understanding.

Hawkins emphasized that it’s important to sort waste properly, as putting items that aren’t recyclable into recycle bins makes recycled materials less valuable.

“The way recycling works is the more material that is going to a facility, the easier it is for them to find markets and the higher value that material is,” she explained.

If there are too many non-recyclable items in a batch of recycling, it becomes costly for waste companies to sort the material. At a certain point of contamination, it becomes more cost-effective for a company to send recycling to the landfill.

In a rural county that already has a lower volume of recycling, contamination further lowers how much waste is actually diverted from the landfill, Hawkins said.

She added that the biggest culprits of contamination are plastic bags.

“Often times, people will put their recycling in a plastic bag, which is the number one way that material gets contaminated,” she said. “If people would stop doing that, it would help the recycling stream immensely.”


To use the Yampa Valley Recycles application online, visit To download the smartphone application, search for “Yampa Valley Recycles” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Sorting recycling can be complicated, but a new resource from the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council aims to make it easier for people to decide where they toss what.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.