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At what price to recycle?

The market for recyclable material has declined which has prompted the Stevens County Commissioners to discuss options for recycling in the county. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times

Right now in Stevens County, it's cheaper to toss recyclable material in the landfill than to recycle theml, county coordinator Becky Young said at the June 18 commissioners meeting.

That's not something Young or the board wants to do but in order to maintain a successful recycling program in the county, the county will need to raise the fees.

While county residents do a good job of recycling in a single-sort system, there are few, if any, markets for recyclable material, Young and Troy Engebretson of Engebretson Sanitary Service said.

Engebretson has a contract to pick-up recycling in the county. Engebretson is hauling material to a facility in McLeod County that charges $40 per ton.

Engebretson said while single-sort recycling where recyclable material is separated from trash has increased recycling rates in the county it creates more labor at the recyclable drop-off site. "You have people sorting it by hand..," Engebretson said.

Sorting different types of recyclables from each other is one step. Then the material needs to be baled and processed, Engebretson said. "It's a really long chain," he said.

The process adds to the cost of dealing with recyclables, he said. Now that the markets, including in China, have dropped off, it's getting more expensive to take away recyclables from the county, Engebretson said.

Young said the county must consider increasing the county's solid waste service fee (SWSF) to continue the recycling program. The fee helps to fund the existing program, the annual hazardous waste collections and other services.

The county's solid waste committee recommends increasing the SWSF to $80 annually per occupied parcel. Commercial property would be assessed based on the estimated market value. The changes would generate about $60,000 in additional revenue to help pay for recycling, Young said.

"If we don't increase the cost, we can't provide the program," Young said.

"We made a commitment," board chairman Jeanne Ennen said of the recycling service.

And the state has mandated that counties provide a recycling service, commissioner Bob Kopitzke said.

Commissioner Donny Wohlers said the county needs to find an alternative and try to develop a market for material.

Young and Kopitzke said recycling markets and recycling programs are more successful in Europe because the government has made policies to support the markets and programs.

"In Europe, they don't use these," Kopitzke said as he held up his plastic water bottle.

Many European countries have also returned to sorting recycling to create better material for markets.

Kopitzke said the solid waste committee has been talking with at least one county about a possible multiple-county recycling system and developing markets.

Engebretson said he's talked with Pope and Douglas counties about their interest in a possible recycling solution.

Pope and Douglas counties offer an organic compost program to customers.

Engebretson did not mention the Pope and Douglas organic composting but said "organics is the next big piece. It costs $80 a ton to get rid of organics."

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