County invests big in recyling

It will likely be a few months before they make their appearance, but rural residents of Becker County can expect to see their recycling sheds replaced with specialized dumpsters.

It will likely be a few months before they make their appearance, but rural residents of Becker County can expect to see their recycling sheds replaced with specialized dumpsters.

And they won't be just any dumpsters -- these are the kind of dumpsters you wouldn't want to meet alone in a dark alley -- more than 8½ feet high, 8½ feet long and 6½ feet wide, each capable of holding 10 cubic yards of recyclables.

There will be up to five of these behemoths at each recycling site, providing up to 50 cubic yards total capacity.

By comparison, the rural recycling sheds now in use each hold about 21 barrels, for a total of 7 cubic yards of capacity.

The county is also buying a compactor truck to match -- it will have a 40 cubic yard box and a compacting system that crushes at a 3-1 ratio, allowing it to pick up some 100 cubic yards or more of loose recyclables.


The dumpsters are designed to maximize their load. Cardboard, for example, will have to be crushed or folded to be inserted into a slot in the side of a dumpster.

"This will give us a lot more capacity out there," said Steve Skoog, who is in charge of environmental affairs for the county.

There are about 40 rural recycling sites now, and all will receive at least a few of the new dumpsters. New sites will also be added, including some to serve Detroit Lakes, for a total of about 45 sites in all.

That includes the new site in Osage, which will be a full-service operation that will take the same waste and recyclables as the big transfer station in Detroit Lakes.

All the rural sites ca be adapted to the new system, Skoog said. "The size of the rural sites was a concern of ours," he admitted. "But it should be all right -- we went out and looked at them all."

The new system is no small investment for Becker County, which will spend more than $500,000 on the front-load compactor truck and 250 dumpsters.

Fortunately, the county has a pile of money in its environmental reserve fund, which was built up to substantial proportions in the 1990s, as a bulwark against possible legal action. The state only allows it to be spent on solid waste or recycling expenses, and the funding will come from there.

There will be up to five dumpsters at each site to accept glass, metals, paper, cardboard and plastics. One dumpster for each type of recyclable at larger sites -- and fewer dumpsters at smaller sites, which will combine compatible types of recyclables, Skoog said.


"At present there are no facilities that will take them commingled," Skoog said. If a recyclable processing facility is built at the Perham incinerator site, Becker County could commingle all recyclables except paper and cardboard.

"But that's four years out," Skoog said. "We're keeping them separated until then."

Becker County stands to gain up to $2 million in state bonding money for a new transfer station if Mark Dayton is elected governor, since legislators would then bring back this year's bonding bill. Gov. Tim Pawlenty stripped out the funding for that project.

"If Horner or Dayton wins, they will bring the bonding bill back," Skoog said.

Minnkota Recycling now has a contract to pick up and process Becker County's recyclables. It receives $125,000 to $135,000 a year from the contract, and also sells the recyclables.

But the county has opted to go it alone with the new dumpsters and truck, which will be operated by a county employee.

"After numerous public meetings and meetings with township officials, this is the solution we came up with," Skoog said.

"There are three components to recyclables: collection, sorting and packaging it for marketing, and actually marketing it," he added. "We'll buy a truck, hire a driver -- now if we want to change things, we can just move the containers.


"Our contracts with Minnkota were clumsy," and made it difficult to make changes at rural recycling sites, he said.

By marketing its recyclables and cutting out the middlemen, the county could pocket the difference. With some materials it could make sense, Skoog said.

"We now pound metal flat at the transfer station," Skoog said. "Our revenue stream went from $80 a ton to about $200 a ton -- we've seen a real favorable change in the bottom line from that -- we'll do that with as many materials as we can."

Minnkota has agreed to work with the county and continue picking up and handling recyclables until the county program is underway in several months, Skoog said.

"Minnkota is willing to work with us -- our intent is not to take over everything and make it so they're not in Detroit Lakes -- we're trying to make a more efficient system," Skoog said.

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