Board takes a look at easier recycling method

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The county board took a first step toward a recycling change that would theoretically make recycling easier for residents in Mower County.

The county board discussed a countywide change to single sort recycling Tuesday, and county leaders are seeking input and opinions on the possibility. The county currently offers curbside recycling for all residents in Austin, but residents must sort recyclables into bins for newspapers, cans and glass, and a bin for plastics. In single sort recycling, all recyclables are collected in one container and later sorted at a recycling facility.

The idea is that single sort makes it easier for residents to recycle, thus encouraging more residents to recycle and keeping more items out of garbages.

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“You’re no doubt going to keep garbage out of the landfill,” said Jeff Weaver, the county’s solid waste officer.

While easier, the change would come at an additional cost. Currently, the average residential property pays a little more than $16 a year for curbside recycling through the county, along with different rates for businesses and farms. Single sort could cost an average of $37.50 and $52.50 a year, according to Weaver.

Every residential property owner already pays the fee — whether they recycle or not — through property taxes, which would also be the case if the county switched to single sort.

However, the idea is that residents could potentially offset the added cost by using less garbage service. Each residence would receive a 96-gallon recycling cart similar to a roadside garbage bin. If the county approved the change, a contractor would pick up recyclables 26 times a year — every other week.

According to Weaver, single-serve recycling has been very successful in Winona, Freeborn and Steele counties. Weaver said those counties have seen the recycling volume double over the course of about five years. Freeborn County, for example, saw a 50 percent increase in its first year, and Weaver expects similar results in Mower County.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said the county started looking into the idea after several residents and groups brought the idea to the board. Currently, staff is looking into model that offers pickup for all residents.

County staff proposed offering curbside recycling for all residences, apartments and churches in Austin and throughout the county, which is similar to Winona County’s model. But some were leery of countywide pickup.

Commissioner Tim Gabrielson was skeptical about rural residents utilizing the curbside recycling, as they’d often have to haul the recycling carts to the end of long driveways, where snowplows or the wind could knock them over. However, Weaver said Winona County installed polls to hook the recycling carts to.

If the board doesn’t pick up countywide, Commissioner Mike Ankeny recommended the county have single sort drop sites for rural residents like the current recycling bins at the recycling center and around the county.

Commissioner Polly Glynn spoke highly of recycling and the single sort option Tuesday.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s just so much easier than our three little containers.”

If the county moved forward with single sort recycling, a contractor would handle the recycling, and the county would likely seek a provision for the contractor to offer plans for business recycling. The contractor would likely set the rate.

If it moves forward, the Mower County Recycling Center could eventually be used for other purposes, and Weaver could take on a few other duties in the county, along with his duties managing hazardous waste.

The county’s solid waste committee will further look into the plan before making a recommendation to the board. Oscarson estimated single sort recycling would take three to six months to implement.

Commissioners are seeking public feedback on the plan.