[Courtesy photo]

As a college student attending Colorado State University in 1972, Debby Barton discovered first-hand how much stuff people throw away that can be repurposed or recycled.

Barton is the new district manager for the Grand County Solid Waste Special Services District – her job is to deal safely with people’s trash, and, when possible, recycle it – something that Moab is already good at doing, she said.

Though she graduated from CSU with a degree in animal science, it was the waste Barton witnessed at college that set her on her path to a career in solid waste. During that first semester of school, she and two other female friends were appalled at all the cans and bottles that partying college students threw away each weekend.

For four months the trio became dumpster divers, retrieving metal cans and glass bottles that they would recycle for cash.

“It wasn’t to save the environment; it was market-driven,” Barton said. “We needed money. We were college students. We knew the materials could be reused. So every Friday and Saturday night we’d go through the dorm dumpsters.”

“We made enough money to wash all of our clothes, buy snacks, eat pizza once a week, and buy some of our lab supplies,” she said. “All of us earned our own way through college,” so the extra money came in handy.

They also found, cleaned, and distributed other items such as silverware and jewelry that students discarded. Even in the 70s, after the first Earth Day, there was still an incredible amount of stuff thrown away, Barton said.

Although Barton doesn’t recommend that people start climbing into dumpsters, the experience taught her about waste and that she enjoys dealing with it. She later spent four years in Europe and got to see how a different culture approached solid waste issues, she said.

Experience with solid waste

Barton’s first day as district manager of the special service district was on June 8; she replaced Tom Edwards, who retired in February, after 15 years. The solid waste district manages the household trash landfill; the construction, demolition and yard waste debris landfill and the Community Recycling Center.

Before moving to Moab, Barton managed a landfill in Cortez, Colorado, serving a population of 25,000 for 15 years. During her tenure there, Barton added a recycling program, including electronic waste recycling twice a year. Barton also began a composting program for Montezuma County.

And, “I helped that landfill get out of a $500,000 debt,” within three or four years, Barton said.

She learned about the Moab solid waste position in January and decided it was time for new challenges.

“I like working with rural communities,” Barton said. “Moab has a good reputation with the solid waste arena. The job looked intriguing. The amount of recycling that Moab does is really, truly amazing for the population base. It’s commendable.”

District board member and treasurer Pam Hackley said the board of directors were impressed with Barton’s overall solid waste experience and her commitment to recycling.

“Debby is clearly passionate about recycling in its broadest sense,” Hackley said. “She spearheaded forming the Four Corners Recycling Initiative and was an active member in the Colorado Recycling Association.”

From a field of excellent candidates, the board chose Barton “because she had the best depth and breadth of education and experience in solid waste management that fits with Grand County today and where we need to head in the future,” Hackley said. “She understands the challenges facing rural, tourist communities.”

Additionally, “she has been a long-time instructor with the Solid Waste Association of America, so she brings us extensive teaching, training, and management skills as well as national networking opportunities,” Hackley said.

Moab City Council member Heila Ershadi joined Hackley in welcoming Barton to Moab.

“It’s great to have Mrs. Barton as director of the solid waste district,” Ershadi said. “With her wealth of experience and proven leadership, I believe she will be instrumental in finding new opportunities for good stewardship and taking our waste management to the next level.”

Some of Barton’s early experience stems from when her husband was stationed at an army base in Fort Riley, Kansas. During that time, Barton served in the Department of Army Civilians, where she was put in charge of Fort Riley’s solid waste program. She developed a recycling program there after performing a waste audit and learned what kinds of materials were being thrown away.

Before she moved to Cortez, Barton became the first executive director of the South Dakota Solid Waste Association, where she provided assistance to haulers, recyclers and landfill operations throughout the state.

Considering ‘value-added’ products

In Moab, Barton said she plans to talk to people in outlying areas about the possibility of expanding the district’s recycling program.

She’s also looking at ways to handle green yard waste. The waste can be made into mulch, or used to create energy – as in biomass energy production, Barton said.

Composting, unfortunately, probably won’t work efficiently in Moab because there is not enough “feed stock” or carbon materials, yard waste and nitrogen-rich items necessary to produce a sufficient quantity, Barton said.

“Compost – as lovely as it is – if we don’t have a lot to put in it, it is not economically wise,” to create, Barton said.

However, the soil amendment is not the only “value-added” product that can be made. Barton mentioned the district could incorporate doing chipping to create mulch, or to use where remediation is needed, such as around well pads.

“We need an honest study – we have to put all the options on the table,” she said. “We’ll look at what’s reasonable, feasible and doable.”

People may bring their household garbage to Bob’s Sanitation transfer station at 2295 S. U.S. Highway 191 during business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Construction, Demolition and Yard Waste Debris Landfill is located on Sand Flats Road, where people may dispose of materials such as sheet rock, asphalt shingles, sewer pipes and other construction-related items from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It is closed on holidays.

The Community Recycling Center at 1000 E. Sand Flats Road, is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dealing with solid waste is a service to the community, and a reason why she enjoys working in the field, said Barton, who is married and has two grown sons, and a grandchild.

“We make sure things are handled properly,” she said. “We don’t burn anymore. We’re protecting folks and reducing environmental impacts.”

For more information about landfill or recycling operations, contact the solid waste district at 435-259-3867, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or visit its website at www.solidwastessd1.com.

Solid waste district hires Debby Barton as new director

It’s great to have Mrs. Barton as director of the solid waste district … With her wealth of experience and proven leadership, I believe she will be instrumental in finding new opportunities for good stewardship and taking our waste management to the next level.