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Swift County starts composting Wal-Mart's waste foods today

BENSON -- Starting today nearly 8 tons of outdated fruits, vegetables and bakery goods generated from four west central Minnesota Wal-Mart stores will be composted each week at Swift County's refuse facility.

The Swift County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to accept the Wal-Mart waste through December on a trial basis, with the prospect of a long-term contract.

Scott Collins, director of Environmental Services for Swift County, said he knows the county's unique recycling and composting garbage system can handle the added tonnage, but said there may be a few challenges when the first load of watermelons and doughnuts arrives.

Depending on what type of produce is in the truck, it may need to go through a grinder first. And depending on the moisture content, grass and leaves may need to be added to the mix.

"We're going to experiment with that," said Collins, who said he is optimistic the new garbage stream will work well for the county.

The food waste will come from Wal-Mart stores in Willmar, Marshall, New Ulm and Montevideo.

Currently 50 to 52 percent of Swift County's municipal waste is composted.

Everything from kitchen waste, paper products and household garbage is processed and put into large compost piles, where it stays for 120 days at 140 to 160 degrees.

After the final composted material is put through a screen to weed out foreign material, it is highly sought after by area farmers who use it as a soil amendment, said Collins. "We have farmers that love it. The end product is not a problem."

With the county's mandatory garbage separation system, a portion of the total waste stream is recycled.

What isn't recycled or composted is hauled to a landfill in Gwinner, N.D.

At $40 a ton, and five to eight tons a week anticipated, the new revenue from Wal-Mart will nearly equal the revenue the county lost when the prison in Appleton closed.

Although the county charged the prison $80 a ton, about half of that garbage had to be hauled to a landfill, which increased the county costs.

Since all of the Wal-Mart waste will be composted, a lower rate is being charged, with the county still likely to come out even further ahead, said Collins.