Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 7, 2005

Recycling wars: county trying to have materials taken to its plant

By Lynda Jensen

An ongoing dispute over sorting recyclables took another turn last week as Winsted officials balked, once again, at making citizens sort products seven times instead of two in order to accommodate a request from McLeod County.

The county has been trying to promote a proposed recycling program to the city that would require items to be separated more at the curb before they are picked up and taken to the county’s recycling plant in Hutchinson.

Sorting the items seven times would benefit the county at the expense of Waste Management, since the items would be pre-sorted and taken to Hutchinson, instead of to Waste Management’s facility in Norwood Young America.

Pre-sorting the items is more cost effective for the county, according to Ed Homan of the Solid Waste Facility in Hutchinson.

This is tough to swallow for Waste Management, since it is essentially pitting a government entity in competition with a private business.

“We’re not against competition, but it’s got to be a level playing field,” commented Sheldon Swensen of Waste Management. The county has access to “unlimited dollars,” he added.

McLeod County is in the process of trying to persuad all the cities in McLeod County to bring their recyclables to Hutchinson.

If they don’t, the county has discussed withholding money reimbursed to the cities for recycling, to the tune of $14,155 last year for Winsted.

The county doesn’t see this necessarily as competition, commented Solid Waste Coordinator Sarah Young of McLeod County.

Sorting would bring more revenue for those who pay county taxes, including Winsted taxpayers, and maximize the facility’s potential, Young said.

“(When it was first built) the facility was asked for by the haulers,” Young said, noting that area garbage haulers requested the facility to be built.

However, this was when there were several small haulers in the county, such as Kubasch Sanitation and Witte Sanitation. Since then, all have been bought out by Waste Management with the exception of D&J Sanitation of Stewart.

Aside from this, Waste Management is being paid for the service of collecting curbside, Young pointed out.

Waste Management is already collecting recyclables that are sorted seven ways in Hutchinson and Silver Lake without an extra charge, she added. “They’re still being paid for their service,” she said.

“What sense does that make?” Swensen asked, referring to charging customers more. “Why would people want to pay more for a lesser service?”

A two-sort system is more cost effective for Waste Management because it is less labor intensive for them, Swensen said. Most of their trucks are set up for a two-sort system, he said.

“We’d have to invest in outdated equipment,” Swensen said. There would be more money spent on payroll for employees who are collecting seven items curbside instead of two. This is more time on the street, Swensen said.

The county claims that sorting seven ways is also a cleaner product and demands a better price, however, this is contested by Waste Management. “The material doesn’t have less value,” Swensen said. Contamination is not an issue, he said.

‘Ridiculous’ sorting

Sorting seven ways is inconvenient and will result in less participation, commented Mayor Don Guggemos at the council meeting.

He asked the audience at the meeting to comment and received an immediate response which ranged from “It doesn’t make sense” to “It’s just ridiculous.”

Both entities are interested in bringing in more recyclables – the county, since it will make more money on items brought to Hutchinson, and Waste Management, at its own facility.

Waste Management contends that sorting less will result in more participation.

The county – although not willing to say that more sorting will increase participation – points to a five-year trend for Winsted, where numbers went down for recyclables while the two-sort system has been in place.

The numbers are a subject of disagreement in itself, since they are disputed by Waste Management.

Initial figures supplied by Waste Management made it appear that the amount of recyclables collected in Winsted went down during that period – when the easier two-sort method was in place.

But Swensen contended that the trend was consistent, and did not go down, because the 2003 figures were inaccurate – an error on the part of a Waste Management employee – and the numbers for 1999, 2000, and 2001 were high-end estimates from Kubasch Sanitation, the previous hauler in Winsted.

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