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Recycling increasing after one year of new single sort program

MORRIS – A year after implementing a single sort recycling program, Stevens County has collected more recyclable materials and received positive feedback about the program from many county residents.

The initial roll out of the program in July 2013 – delivering approximately 2,200 recycling containers to city residents throughout Stevens County – took about a week, said Troy Engebretson of Engebretson and Sons Disposal.

Today, Engebretson said he has distributed nearly all of the containers in the original order of 2,600 bins.

Engebretson estimated that more than 90 percent of residents put out a recycling container at least once per month – “Everybody has been very receptive and more people are recycling.”

Total collected recycling increases with new program

In the 2012 calendar year, the county collected about 461 tons of recyclable material. From July 1, 2013 to Aug. 1, 2014, Stevens County collected 850 tons of recyclable material through the single sort recycling program, an increase of about 390 tons.

When the program was introduced to cities in the county, Kleindl said he hoped to increase recycling by about 50 percent. The 390 ton increase is about an 84 percent increase over the volume in 2012.

Kleindl estimated that the 390 tons increase in recyclables saved the county about $6,500 dollars that would have been paid to dispose of the materials.

“It appears to be working, what we’re doing right now,” said Kleindl. “Hopefully this continues to go on and lessen the amount of garbage we have to take to both of our waste disposal facilities.”

Despite an increase in recycling, the amount of garbage collected over the last year has only decreased slightly. Between 2009 and 2013, the amount of garbage collected annually increased steadily from 5,664 tons to 5,960 tons. Since the single sort program was implemented in July 2013, Engebretson and Sons Disposal collected 5,831 tons of garbage, a decrease of about 129 tons compared the 2013 calendar year.

Kleindl and Engebretson both noted that garbage collection tends to increase every year, so any decrease is a positive change.

“I would hope that next year we should be around 5,800 tons,” said Kleindl.

John Pokorney, senior pollution control specialist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said the amount of garbage collected annually across the state tends to follow economic trends – when the economy is good, people produce more garbage.

Unfortunately, a change to the credits that counties can receive to boost their recycling rates may make it difficult to know whether the county’s overall recycling rate – measured at about 20 percent in 2012 – has increased significantly since the single sort program was introduced. Additionally, 2013 numbers for the state’s annual report on recycling and waste reduction, the SCORE report, haven’t been finalized yet.

Kleindl said he estimated a one to two percent increase in the county’s recycling rate after six months of single sort recycling.

State, local changes to program under consideration

There are also some upcoming changes that will impact recycling programs across the state.

In May, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a new law that overhauled the state’s recycling rules. The new rules increase recycling goals, increase funding for recycling programs and require composting programs in metro counties.

“Right now the big target is getting organics (compostable materials) out of the waste stream because that stuff is heavy,” said Pokorney.

Organic materials are difficult to burn and, if placed in landfills, release methane (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere, Pokorney said.

Now that the program has been running for a year, Kleindl and Engebretson plan to meet with the county’s solid waste committee to review the program and suggest changes.

When the program was implemented, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted to increase the solid waste service fee, a yearly charge collected on property tax statements, from $45 to $65 to help pay for the new 64-gallon recycling containers. Kleindl said he does not anticipate raising the rate again in the short term.

One change they will consider is investing in dumpsters for recyclables at larger commercial businesses. Right now, the remaining 400 containers in the original order were distributed to businesses in the community. if the county invests in commercial dumpsters, these containers could be distributed out to residential customers who may need more than one container.

The committee will also review the rural recycling program and discuss whether to invest in new recycling trailers that are designed for single sort programs.

“It’s all about cost – we’re trying to keep the cost down and pick the best option,” said Engebretson.