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Paynesville Press - October 24, 2001

Recycling reaches anniversaries

By Michael Jacobson

Take all the stuff that city of Paynesville residents have recycled in the last ten years and stack it on the high school football field. The recycled material for the last decadewould cover the field with a 12-foot high stack. It would weigh more than 1,500 tons, according to Don Williamson of West Central Sanitation, which has done curbside recycling in the city since March 1991 and in parts of Paynesville Township for the past year.

County comparisons Every month within the city of Paynesville, West Central Sanitation collects seven tons of newsprint, three tons of clear glass, two tons of tin cans, one ton of brown and green glass, and 1.5 tons of plastic.

Within the last 15 years, recycling has become a habit for many people. And Minnesotans are some of the best at recycling. Statewide, Minnesotans recycled 46 percent of their trash in 1998, according to the annual report by the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (OEA).

Still, 54 percent of material is thrown away as trash or solid waste. Minnesota had nearly three million tons of solid waste in 1998, according to the OEA.

History of recycling
For much of human history, recycling was done out of necessity. As recently as World War I and World War II, recycling was used heavily as production was geared toward war.

"Then it died for a number of years," said Williamson. "We became a consumer-driven society and disposed of everything."

Until the 1970s, most cities relied on open dumps to dispose of the town's trash. In the country, people dumped their trash, too, or burned it, practices that are illegal today.

Fire was used at the city dumps, too. The garbage was burned daily, but little else was done. "We didn't manage it," said Williamson. "There would be rats and rodents. There'd be birds picking (at it)."

In the 1970s, city dumps were closed, and the disposal method for trash switched to sanitary landfills, which no longer burned but required the trash to be covered daily by a layer of dirt. This reduced the problems of rats and birds, but added cost.

Sanitary landfills looked better, but they concentrated the trash, said Williamson. That landfills leaked into the ground water was noticed in the 1980s. This caused stricter requirements for landfills: engineering, two feet of packed clay, a synthetic liner, monitoring. This also started a push for closing landfills that didn't meet these new requirements, including the one east of Paynesville.

Other options - like incinerators - were pursued, too.

These extra costs to protect the environment were passed on in the disposal rates. "That's when we saw garbage costs double, triple, and quadruple," said Williamson.

When this happened, attention turned to recycling again. "Then the thought was, 'We need to bury less and burn less,' " explained Williamson. "And people started thinking, 'What can we take out of the waste stream?' "

"Let's pull what we can out of the trash," he continued. "Why put a clean milk jug or a mayonaise jar through this costly process?"

Whether the process itself proves profitable has yet to be seen, according to Williamson. The emphasis on environmentally-friendly methods of disposal raises the waste costs, but will hopefully save money in the long run by avoiding damage to the environment.

The addition of curbside recycling, where separated recyclable items are collected with the trash, happened to make recycling convenient and, hopefully, sustainable, said Williamson.

Also in the 1980s, a six and a half percent tax on all trash collection was levied by the state, a rough equivalent to sales tax. The money from the SCORE tax, though, was dedicated to aid recycling. "SCORE money bought our first bins in Paynesville," said Williamson. That was in March 1991.

Paynesville Township used a SCORE grant to buy containers and to promote the curbside recycling program in portions of the township last fall. Once the program started (only around Lake Koronis, Rice Lake, and in the densely populated portions of the township) over 100 residents signed up for recycling. Since then, the program in Paynesville Township has grown to more than 130 residences by February 2001 and 172 currently.

Recycling has been a societal shift, said Williamson.

Paynesville is unusual for a small town. It has a complete recycling loop: from curbside recycling to a recycling business to processor of recycling products to a manufacturer that uses recycled material.

D & D Recycling, which started in the late 1980s, still gets all the recyclable material collected in the city of Paynesville and also is open on Saturdays to collect other items from the public.

It sells its material to places like Quality Checked Plastics in the Industrial Park. Quality Checked granulates plastic items into pellets that can be sold to manufacturers.

Master Mark Plastics takes plastic pellets (though not from Quality Checked) and makes black lawn edging, plastic garden products, and a new composite material for decking.

Funding recycling
The emphasis on recycling has created a great supply of recyclable material, but the demand has not kept pace. "The problem with recycling still is undeveloped markets," said Williamson. "You can't depend on making a profit. In fact, most of the time you lose money."

Cardboard and newsprint are currently worth $30 per ton. Glass has so little value that West Central Sanitation has tried using it as a fill material to save transportation costs to the Twin Cities.

"I would assume there's a glut on the market," said Dick Michaelis, a co-owner of D & D Recycling and Quality Checked Plastics. "There's just too much recyclable material."

When D & D Recycling started, they paid people to bring in glass and paper, said Michaelis. Alu-minum cans used to be worth 50 per pound. But in the last few years, they have had to charge because the markets for the recyclable materials haven't paid the bills. "It's getting worse instead of better right now," said Michaelis.

The problem is that in a number of industries virgin material still costs less than recycled material, agreed Michaelis and Williamson. One thing that could be done to aid recycling, said Williamson, would be the end of subsidies in virgin industries like logging.

People can do more than recycle, said Williamson. "The best thing a citizen can do, if they want to help, is buy recycled products," he said.

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