Our Opinion: Doing the right thing with trash
Good news on the Becker County solid waste front:
The bonding bill that was just approved by the Minnesota House includes up to $2.6 million for Becker County to design and construct a waste transfer facility and a material recovery facility.
The money will go to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which will pay 75 percent of the cost of the transfer station and 50 percent of the cost of a material recovery facility at the Becker County transfer station near Detroit Lakes.
Of course, the bonding measure must also be approved by the Minnesota Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law.
Becker County is eager to move forward on the project, which would include an up-to-date transfer station with a large tipping floor and extra-tall garage doors (now mandated by the state) to accommodate drivers who forget to lower their dump truck beds.
State rules also say there should be three days’ storage capacity for solid waste at the transfer station.
The site would also include a material recovery facility, where recyclables and non-burnable items would be removed from the waste stream before the remaining garbage is trucked to the Perham Resource Recovery Facility.
And it would ideally include a building to process special recyclables like florescent light bulbs, batteries, e-waste and other items that are now processed in a less-efficient manner at the transfer station.
Becker County is now part of the Prairie Lakes Municipal Solid Waste Authority, along with Otter Tail, Wadena and Todd counties. The city of Perham is also a partner.
The group has built a material recovery facility adjoining the solid waste incinerator at Perham, and is adding a second burn chamber to the incinerator.
The facility burns solid waste and creates steam, selling the power to Bongards Creameries and KLN Family Brands in Perham.
Solid waste incinerators that also provide power are a more environmentally-friendly way to get rid of garbage than burying it in a landfill, according to the state.
Air quality at the incinerator is carefully monitored, and it’s easier to stay within allowable emission limits if metals and other non-burnable items are removed before the garbage is shoveled in. Hence the need for the MRFs.
Becker County is doing the responsible thing with its solid waste flow, which has increased from 16,277 tons in 2012 to 17,402 tons last year.
Another 8,240 tons was recycled last year, including the standard recyclables like metal, paper, plastic, glass — and nonstandard items like restaurant cooking oil and old clothing.
So recyclables make up about a third of the county’s total solid waste stream. The state would like to see the figure essentially double, to about 60 percent. A materials recovery facility at the county level would help boost the percentage of recyclables, and also help the county provide a cleaner waste flow to Perham.
Even after the Perham facility is fully up and running later this year, Becker County expects to send about a third of its garbage stream to Fargo to be landfilled — mostly bulky or otherwise unburnable items.
The incinerator will be more expensive than the current system, but it will reduce the county’s long-term liability for any future landfill cleanup costs.
And it will guarantee the county a stable, dependable destination for its solid waste.
Besides, that, it’s the right thing to do — and doing the right thing is always a good long-term plan.