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Becker County goes blue

The Becker County recycling truck collects the recycling materials from new blue bins behind the County Road 6 BP & Bait convenience store.1 / 2
Becker County recycling route driver Todd Helliksen maneuvers the Becker County recycling truck and picks up a new blue recycling bin to empty into the truck Friday morning.2 / 2

There's been a lot of trash-talking in Becker County lately -- and the news keeps recycling around town.

You might have noticed the new, big, blue bins sitting where recycling sheds once were (and many still sit).

Those are part of Becker County's efforts to step up its recycling program in what they say is already proving to be a very efficient manner.

"It's going to save the county money in the long run, and so far we've heard that everybody just loves it," said Sandy Gunderson, recycling coordinator for Becker County.

Gunderson doesn't refer to common waste generated in the county as "trash" or "garbage" as much as she does "resources."

"Half of what we throw away can be used again, and so they are commodities," Gunderson said, adding that Becker County is now going to use those "resources" to fund its own recycling program.

In the past, the county contracted out the job of recycling to Minnkota Recycling of Detroit Lakes.

The problem was, not a penny of the money received for the recycled goods came back to the county.

"That was just the way our contract was set up with them years ago," said Gunderson, "We collected the recyclables and they picked it up and sold it, without us getting any reimbursement."

So, at the beginning of June, Becker County started its own recycling program, and to do so bought 250 large, blue dumpster-style bins for $250,000 and a $198,000 blue, front-loader compactor truck.

The initial investment was substantial, but Gunderson says a $50,000 state grant, plus the money they will now receive in selling the recyclables should have the investment recouped in roughly five years.

"We have developed a great partnership with Otter Tail County where they have that large materials recovery facility with a big pick-line that separates the mixed loads," said Gunderson.

So now a smaller part of what Becker County collects is sold to Otter Tail County and a larger part of it is sold to a materials recovery facility down in the Twin Cities.

The money received from recyclables won't fund the entire program, but Gunderson says it will go a long way to offset the costs of doing well for the environment.

Because the program has only been running for six weeks, Becker County has not yet received money for its recyclables, but expects to soon.

"It's estimated to save us about $50,000 a year -- maybe more," Gunderson said.

That's out of the nearly $150,000 the county paid Minnkota yearly to clear the sheds.

There are 45 recycling sites around Becker County, and while most of them are in the same location as the old sheds, a couple of them have moved and three more have been added.

There is a new one out at the Becker County Fairgrounds, one at the Boys and Girls Club Thrift Store parking lot and one at the Richwood Store.

"I think it's going really well," said Richwood Store owner Pete Johnson, "I've heard a lot of good feedback on it from everyone -- even seasonal people are using them."

In fact, since the blue bins made their June debut, Gunderson says recycling in Becker County has jumped up by 30 percent, collecting roughly 200 tons in six weeks.

"Well, it's easier now, because they don't have to do as much sorting," said Gunderson.

With the sheds, as well as with recycling programs offered through most garbage haulers, people donating recyclables have to sort the different colors of glass, the different numbers of plastics and the different types of paper.

With the blue bins, all glass goes in one compartment, all paper in another, all aluminum, tin and small pieces of scrap metal in one, all cardboard in another and all number one and number two plastics (with screw tops) go together.

No longer do everyday citizens have to be recycling experts to figure it out, as much of the sorting is done at the facilities they're sold to.

The new truck that collects the garbage with its mechanical arm also frees up human hands, thereby taking a load off of township employees.

"We paid somebody to maintain the sheds," said Duane Olson of Cormorant Township, "So now nobody will have to be in there cleaning, picking up trashing and sorting."

Gunderson says those old sheds would sometimes get too full.

A big benefit of the blue bins is that they have increased capacity size from seven yards to 40-50 yards per site, which then in turn, saves more money because they will need to be emptied less often -- saving fuel and time.

While promoting the new aspects of the recycling program, county employees at the transfer station also continue to collect special waste to be recycled such as tires, concrete, oil, metals, and electronics.

Gunderson says things they will not accept (but often get thrown in with the recyclables anyway) are pizza boxes, frozen food boxes, Styrofoam, baby diapers, and fish guts.

"To get them out of the waste stream makes it really challenging -- and if somebody is caught they will be charged with a crime that holds a pretty hefty fine."

Gunderson says now the county's goal is to educate and promote the recycling program.

"So we're meeting with different groups for presentations and talking with businesses and trying to get recycling going in more apartment buildings..."

Gunderson says since the program is still new, they're looking for feedback on the changes.

To contact them or to find out more on the locations of the sites, log on to or call 218-846-7310.