Yellowstone Takes On a Challenge

To preserve its serene beauty for future generations, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, is using its slow winter season to test an expanded recycling program.

In June 2003, the park — which annually disposes of 3,000 tons of garbage primarily generated by 3 million park visitors — opened a compost facility in hopes of diverting approximately 70 percent of its waste stream. However, the park soon realized it was only composting about 30 percent of its waste because the feedstock was contaminated with too many noncompostable items. Also, secondary trips to the landfill to dispose of contaminated material pulled from compost were draining the park's 2003 revenue.

So, the park decided to improve its recycling infrastructure by initiating a pilot program and placing 14 recycling bins for aluminum and/or steel, glass, paper, cardboard and No. 1 plastic around Mammoth Hot Springs, the park's headquarters.

Additionally, park officials now are promoting behavioral changes among visitors and concessionaires. For example, messages highlighting the importance of park recycling will appear in local newspapers, as well as in the park newsletter, which all visitors receive upon arrival. Park rangers also will attempt to educate visitors during their interpretive talks. And concessionaires are being asked to color-code their garbage sacks as compostable, noncompostable or recyclable.

Officials believe that the pilot program, coupled with an education campaign, will lead to increased recycling and overall waste stream reductions. To continue composting operations, the park must have a significant reduction of materials going to the landfill, according to Jim Evanoff, vice chair of Headwaters' board of directors. The park needs to “flip-flop” last year's statistics so that 70 percent of the waste stream is composted or recycled and 30 percent is sent to the landfill, he says. Providing visitors and employees with the proper “[recycling] education and increased recycling opportunities” is key to reaching that goal.

Yellowstone is a member of Headwaters, a regional recycling cooperative that serves a total area of 35,000 square miles comprised of 11 counties, three cities and the park.

If the improved recycling and composting program is successful, the Headwaters cooperative hopes to implement a similar recycling program in the rest of the region.

For more information about the program, call Jim Evanoff at (307) 344-2311.