Recycling challenge: Controlling costs

If you have not been following the story regarding Lyon County recycling, the following may help.

On June 17, Lyon County received notice from the current recycling contractor of the contractor’s intent to sever the existing recycling contract which was set to expire Dec. 31, 2020. The County quickly initiated the process of requesting proposals for the continuation of recycling services. The bid preparation, advertising, and submital process is lengthy; bids were received and considered at the Aug. 20 County board meeting.

County Commissioners were faced with bids for recycling services were more than double the current cost of service; from a current cost of $306,780 annually to $644,657 annually to continue the same level of weekly service. A lower-cost alternative was also presented that would reduce the frequency of service, but even that cost was over half a million dollars annually. We all believe recycling is the right thing to do, but we also believe controlling cost is the right thing to do. Such is our current challenge.

Nationwide, the recycling market is in shambles. Recyclable material used to have value in Minnesota; providing a payment of about $45 per ton in 2016. Currently, recyclers have to pay $37 per ton to get rid of recyclables. This $82 per ton difference has led to the additional cost of about $175,000 to the County for recycling collection and processing. There are numerous factors currently influencing recycling markets; including the United States losing major buyers of our recyclable commodities. Most industry experts do not see recycling markets returning to profitable within the next three to five years.

In response to current cost of recycling Lyon County has opted to re-evaluate our recycling program, seeking methods to control the cost to residents. As a first step going forward Lyon County will maintain all 14 existing community recycling sites in towns and cities throughout the County. Residents who are accustomed to curbside service are encouraged to utilize these community recycling sites in the same way that residents who do not have curbside service have been using for decades.

With the current contract set to expire Sept. 30, and with the high bid prices no longer being considered as appropriate options to pursue at this time, changes will be made in stages as time and revenue allow. At this time our priority to is assure the 14 recycling sites are available for residents to continue recycling. We will continue to evaluate market conditions and look for opportunities to rebuild the curbside recycling program going forward. Please be patient with us as we evaluate possible scenarios.

If I could express the current recycling situation in a trendy T-shirt it would say “Keep calm, and reduce waste.” As you will hear in the coming months from our Environmental Office there are numerous ways to minimize the amount of garbage we generate, but also reduce the amount of recycling we generate. It has always been more beneficial to the environment to conserve, and now with the additional cost to dispose of recycling it is equally important to reduce the amount of recycling we generate.

For example, consider the excess glut of plastic caused by single use water bottles. Most of the cost of bottled water is the bottle. The contents of the bottle (i.e. water) is cheap. If all of us would purchase a refillable bottle rather than continue to buy plastic water bottles in the store we could help ease the burden of excess plastic in the recycling system. Plastic is currently one of the worst markets for recycling and the cause of great logistical stress on the total recycling system.

We appreciate the passion county residents have to protect the environment and do the right thing, and appreciate those who have respectfully shared their views.

County leadership has been active in conversations that lead toward reaching a solution that is both cost effective and beneficial to the environment.

–Roger Schroeder is the Lyon County public works department administrator