Craig Marshall moves a cube of crushed cans at the Mower County Recycling Center Friday morning. — Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune
Craig Marshall moves a cube of crushed cans at the Mower County Recycling Center Friday morning. — Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

Archived Story

Mower County may lose jobs in recycling switch

Published 5:00pm Saturday, July 12, 2014

AUSTIN — While recycling leaders in Winona, Freeborn and Steele counties said single sort recycling has been a positive change, it could result in lost jobs in Mower County.

The county is discussing a switch to a single sort recycling program for Mower County. The county currently offers curbside recycling for all residents in Austin, but residents must sort recyclables into separate bins for newspapers, cans and glass, and a bin for plastics. With single sort recycling, all recyclables are collected in one container and later sorted at a recycling facility.

Cedar Valley Services would potentially lose the jobs of 15 to 18 people with disabilities who are employed by the recycling plant in Austin.

“(The change) would result in a loss of those jobs and income,” said Rich Pavek, Division Director of Cedar Valley Services.

Cedar Valley has had a contract with the recycling plant since 1987, and as of right now the contract is set to end in March of 2016.

“It’s been good for us,” Pavek said. “We’ll miss the job opportunities.”

Though Pavek is disappointed, he understands where the county is coming from as a resident of Rochester, as Olmsted County has single sort recycling.

“It really is easier for the residents,” Pavek said.

The idea is that ease will lead the public recycling more, and that’s been in the case in Freeborn and Steele counties.

Collin Wittmer, recycling coordinator in both counties, estimated 58 percent more recyclables have been picked up in Steele County since the change, with Freeborn coming in with similar numbers.

“We’ve seen a large increase with recyclables,” he said.

Steele County is a year and a half into the single sort recycling program, and Freeborn County began their single sort recycling program last November.

Wittmer said the program was at first met with questions and concerns.

“There were a lot of questions at first,” Wittmer said. “A few people (opted out) of the program, but there’s always going to be a small percentage of people who don’t want anything to do with recycling.”

The change has come with a few issues. Both counties have seen more contamination with garbage in recycling bins. To solve the problem, cameras were installed on the trucks. If the driver sees consistent abuse in a certain bin, they can stop picking it up.

Neither Steele nor Freeborn offers the program in rural areas, which has resulted in a decrease in the amount of recycling in those areas. However, the amount of recyclables in cities with the program has greatly increased.

Anne Morse, sustainability coordinator for Winona County, was pleased with how single sort recycling has gone there over the past three years.

“It’s been very favorable,” Morse said. “Everybody loves it.”

According to Morse, the volume of recyclables collected has increased by two-thirds.

“They find it much more simple. I think that’s why we have much more volume (of recyclables collected),” Morse said.

Unlike Steele and Freeborn, Winona County offers the program in all parts of the county.

“Our intention was to make it as easy for residents to recycle as it was to throw garbage away,” Morse said.

Larry Dolphin, director of the Hormel Nature Center and organizer of RE-fest, liked the idea of the program and hopes it encourages residents to recycle more.

“The more we can make it easier without increasing the dollar to do it, the better,” Dolphin said. “It’d be nice if it meant everyone participates.”

Other community members, like county Commissioner Tim Gabrielson, don’t think single sort recycling is a good idea for rural areas.

“I live in the county, and I don’t want it,” Gabrielson said.

Gabrielson said he has a long driveway, which would be a pain for him to plow in the winter, along with no place put the bin.

However, he does want to weigh the pros and cons of single sort recycling and take the county’s wants into consideration. He plans on meeting with a representative from Rice County on Monday about their current program.

“I think recycling is absolutely necessary,” Gabrielson said.

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 Jeff Weaver, Mower County’s solid waste officer.

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.

Jason Schoonover contributed to this report.