Column: State proposals may help or harm recycling efforts

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 11, 2002

There is a lot happening in the legislature this year with solid waste issues.

Monday, March 11, 2002

There is a lot happening in the legislature this year with solid waste issues. To access additional information, go to to look for specific issues.

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One legislative proposal will reduce grant funding for recycling and waste reduction programs to counties (SCORE). The funding comes from the tax you pay on your trash bills (both residential and commercial). The state collects more than what is given back (to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Office of Environmental Assistance and to the counties). The excess goes into the state general revenue fund.

Solid waste administrators statewide (myself included), the Association of Minnesota Counties, county commissioners and other groups have been trying to convince legislators that increased costs have meant reductions in spending on the local level the past 10 years and feel the legislature should consider increasing money from that fund to counties, but it appears there will be a cut.

Another bill being considered would require electronics manufacturers to take back the old worn out equipment they sold new. It addresses the need to dispose of hundreds of thousands of old washers, dryers, refrigerators and other items. In the past this has also been refereed to as &uot;product stewardship.&uot; It is an attempt to make the manufacturers responsible for the products they produce. This is not a new idea and other states are looking at similar legislation.

Other bills being considered would require that materials purchased by the state contain recycled content and a bill that would require a deposit on food and/or beverage containers. These laws usually do not clean up our ditches of litter, but would provide a large steady volume of clean recyclables that encourages development of more processing facilities. This is a problem in marketing recyclable materials. Few new facilities have opened but many have closed and gone out of business in recent years due to quality or lack of volume.

In Iowa, the Iowa Grocery Industry Association is behind an effort to repeal their 23 year old bottle redemption law. The cry is of concern over health threats from stores accepting the returns. The grocers say they are not anti-redemption, they just want the filthy returnables taken somewhere else. In Iowa, the return rate of containers is in the 80 percent range compared to 30 percent when collected by a curbside programs like ours.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has no record of people becoming sick from bacterial disease from returned container storage areas so we will watch with interest as this battle continues. Support for keeping the beverage return program is high with Gov. Tom Vilsack, former Gov. Robert Ray and Terry Branstad all signing on with support to continue the return law.

Our legislators need to hear the concerns from citizens they represent both on the state and federal levels. Each year solid waste legislation in some form or another is introduced and we need to express our needs to representatives so they can take a stand in our behalf.

As we view the recycling statistics here in Freeborn County in past years, we see a steady increase in the amount of trash being hauled to the landfill. Our recycling rate has increased too, but we are generating trash at a faster rate, making the statistics look like our recycling rate is in decline. We actually had a 10 percent increase in residential recycling in 2001, but you would never know it when you look at the total tonnage of trash hauled. We are doing a great job of recycling, we just need to do a better job of waste reduction, in our homes and at work.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is the director of the Freeborn County Environmental Services Department.