Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 27, 2004

Winsted questions county’s proposed recycling program

By Jane Otto

A proposed McLeod County program could change the way Winsted residents recycle.

County Solid Waste Director Ed Homan recently advised the Winsted City Council via a letter about a countywide recycling program.

The program would require recycling to be separated at the curb before it’s picked up and taken to the county’s recycling plant in Hutchinson.

That means putting newspapers in one bag, metal cans in a different bag, plastic in another bag, cardboard in another, and separating glass by color.

Currently, Winsted citizens put newspapers in one container and everything else in another.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Winsted City Council members couldn’t see switching from a two-sort system to a seven-sort system as being successful. They made no decision as to what route the city will take, but requested more information from the county.

“If this happens, all the stuff they sort today will go in the garbage,” Council Member Tom Ollig said.

Two versus seven

After becoming accustomed to two-sort recycling, Council Member Tom Wiemiller said now, he couldn’t see having seven bags of garbage on his curb .

The county prefers material separated at the curb because it’s less labor intensive, Homan said from his Hutchinson office Wednesday. It’s also a cleaner product and demands a better price, he added.

The county policy, however, wouldn’t be effective until the city’s current contract with Waste Management expires in 2007.

After that, the county will take over Winsted’s recycling, as well as that of other eight cities in the county when their contracts expire.

The city of Lester Prairie recently signed a five-year contract with Waste Management, which included two-sort recycling pick-up. The countywide program is expected to be on the council’s Oct. 11 agenda.

Winsted City Administrator Brent Mareck questioned how well residents would transition to a seven-sort system. “What’s the (county’s) plan to get people to know how to do this?” he asked.

Recognizing that re-educating citizens may be difficult, Homan said “We’ll work with each municipality as their contracts come renewable.”

Why a new system?

Through a countywide recycling program, the county wants to reduce its recycling expenses while generating revenue by having all material directed to its Hutchinson center.

The county spent approximately $232,000 on curbside recycling last year.

“It’s with the understanding that revenue stays within the county and, if we can, provide an additional rebate to cities based on the tonnage,” Homan said. “The more you recycle, the bigger reimbursement you get.”

Since January, more than $60,000 in revenue has been generated at the county’s new plant, almost doubling what it did last year, Homan said. He anticipates more than $100,000 in revenue this year.

He added, however, that the plant’s expenses are not deducted, nor are they determined.

The county’s solid waste advisory committee recommended the county take over the recycling programs for its nine cities at its Sept. 13 meeting.

Winsted’s city administrator, Mareck, who serves on that committee, and a city of Glencoe representative, declined voting until they could speak with their respective city councils.

Where’s the money?

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Don Guggemos said, “The city’s on a two-sort and the county wants a seven-sort. Should that not happen, they’re threatening to withhold our funding.”

In 2003, the county reimbursed Winsted $20,000, of which 7.5 percent was state money.

In 1989, the state adopted legislation based on the recommendation of the Governor’s Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment, better known as SCORE, that would financially help counties develop effective solid waste management programs.

McLeod County received $76,000 in SCORE funds the past year, but reimbursed roughly $300,000 to cities for its environmental programs.

Mareck later said he called the League of Minnesota Cities to have the association research if the county can withhold that state money.

According to County Administrator Nan Crary, the state appointed counties as the authority for distributing the SCORE funds. The county, then, can stipulate what a city’s requirements are to receive that money.

If Winsted chose not to participate, Homan said it would be a county board decision whether to reimburse the city for its recycling costs. “We would hope that’s not the case,” he said, “I think it’s a win-win situation for county residents. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to participate.”

A countywide program won’t be taking money away from cities, Homan said. Winsted was reimbursed $14,155 for its recycling costs the past year, which he referred to as “pass-through” dollars.

“They’re merely writing another check and giving it to a waste hauler,” he said. “Now, they won’t have to do the paper work.”

Cities, however, would still be reimbursed for environmental programs, such as yard waste or household hazardous waste collections, Homan added.

The recycling business

In addition to possibly reducing curbside recycling expenses, the county could generate additional revenue by directing all that recycling to its new Hutchinson recycling center.

That’s something Waste Management’s Sheldon Swensen sees as possibly being in competition with the nationwide waste hauler for whom he works.

“We were a customer of McLeod County, a vendor of McLeod County, and now a competitor of McLeod County,” Swensen said. “It’s a real awkward position.”

Waste Management contracts with Winsted, as well as other cities in the county, to haul its garbage and recycling.

With the exception of Hutchinson and Silver Lake’s recycling, the material goes to its Norwood Young America plant.

Homan sees that as revenue that’s leaving the county and could be generated at its $2.2 million recycling center, built in 2003 as part of implementing its solid waste plan.

County Commissioner Ray Bayerl, who represents the Winsted-Lester Prairie area, initially didn’t support a county-owned recycling plant, but now that it’s built, he said he should the best he can to make it successful.

“I’m always of the opinion that if private businesses can do it, let them,” Bayerl said. “But, I need to go on from there now, and try to support what the county is doing.”

The $2.2 million came from the county’s solid waste abatement fund, money the county collects from Waste Management’s Spruce Ridge landfill, near Biscay.

State law requires landfill owners pay so much per ton of garbage deposited in their landfills.

Homan said the county isn’t in the business of competing with private enterprises, it merely wants to reduce expenses and generate revenue.

The county and Waste Management, however, continue to negotiate. As the county moves toward a countywide program, it will solicit bids from haulers, Homan said.

“I have a good working relationship with Sheldon,” Homan said. “I hope, down the road, we can work something out here.”

Homan, who met with Waste Management Thursday, said the hauler is willing to bring recycling here, but as two-sorted not seven.

That’s the stumbling block, he added.

A supporter of two-sort recycling, Swensen said research shows that it encourages people to recycle. “The whole idea,” he said, “is to get people to recycle as much as possible.”

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