Where do our recycled materials go after they leave the curb?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 11, 2003

Our recycling gets picked up twice a month at the curb, or in rural areas we place our materials mixed together into large recycling boxes, but where does it go from there? Are all of the mixed materials really recycled?

Freeborn County has a contract with Waste Management of Southern Minnesota to collect, process, market and then report the tonnages and types of materials to this office. We in turn report those numbers to the State of Minnesota. These statistics are useful to determine whether our efforts to increase recycling rates are effective, and the statistics provide a means whereby we can compare our program successes to other cities and counties.

Our contract for the collection of residential recycling has certain stipulations that both of us must follow. For example, if there is more than ten percent non-recyclable materials (garbage and junk) in the recycling bins, the contractor can remove them and send it to the landfill. The recycling company must report that amount to our office and explain why the materials are being landfilled. Examples of unacceptable materials have included farm/ag chemical containers, plastic flower pots with no recycling symbol on them, rusty old five gallon pails, barbed wire and fencing, car parts, old sewing machines, a toaster and the list goes on. Someone was obviously using our recycling containers for garbage disposal. Minnesota state law prohibits any company from disposing of recyclable materials that were collected for the purpose of reuse and recycling. Because of this law, some companies in Minnesota have been stuck with truck loads of recycling materials they were unable to sell because of poor markets and were also prevented from disposing of them. It’s a catch 22 for the hauler if that happens.

Email newsletter signup

In Freeborn County, the co-mingled loads of recycled materials are taken to the Waste Management recycling center located north of Albert Lea by the Oak Grove Gun Club. This is also the site of the garbage transfer station, a gravel pit, a cement company and a demolition landfill. At the transfer station (the recycling building is right next to the garbage transfer station) all recycling is placed into an open top semi trailer. These trailers are on their way back to the twin cities from the landfill, and using them for a back haul saves the company money. Each trailer is loaded with either fibre (corrugated, news, magazines, white paper) or rigids (glass, plastic, tin or aluminum). When the trailer is full, a tarp is rolled over the load to prevent spillage and the load is taken to the Waste Management recycling center in downtown Minneapolis.

Last year I attended the grand opening of Waste Management’s new recycling center. It is the largest processing center I have ever seen. They disassemble electronics for recycling, sort and bale numerous types of beverage containers and paper products and send everything out to recycling markets by truck or rail. The next time you drive to the Twin Cities on Interstate 35, watch for these garbage/recycling trailers on their daily routes. They are easily identified by the canvas-type tarp used to hold garbage from blowing on their way down to Lake Mills, Iowa, and the same trailers to cover the recycling materials on their return trip to the Minneapolis recycling/processing center. Don’t be surprised if you see garbage and recycling being loaded into the same truck on the city streets. Newer collection trucks have internal divisions to keep the recycling separated from the trash. This efficiency saves the company from making two collection passes, reducing road wear and traffic congestion.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is Freeborn County’s solid waste officer.