Where do ‘special’ items get hauled off to?

Published 8:48 am Monday, May 11, 2009

Recycling of “special” items is easier and more convenient in some ways but there is the notion that it could or should be free. While some items such as appliances, electronics or household hazardous waste may have had no disposal fee in the past, those programs were few and as expected did not last long.

If we look at the disposal of some of the “special” waste items, we can see why there are costs involved. Tires for example have few options for the final or end destination, most of them in this area going to Savage. There are companies throughout the United States that use tires for road construction, playground cover, fuel for industrial incinerators and other business ventures.

The fact remains, however, that most of those uses are limited or have run into problems with their use and discontinued the project. Wires in the rubber injured children on the playground, rubber in road projects was too soft or did not work as a good product during freezing and thawing, or feed for combustion made it difficult to control emissions of an incinerator, etc. It’s not for lack of someone trying to solve the disposal problem, but how do we effectively and economically handle tires without stockpiling them, creating a new nuisance or problem.

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There have been a few collections of appliances in the past few years, but metal prices fell and the price of recycling white goods lost value. There are problems associated with recycling appliances that some scavengers fail to acknowledge, such as asbestos insulation, mercury containing switches, toxic metals in the electronic circuits and other issues that are often not dealt with effectively.

In Freeborn County, an appliance recycler must obtain a Generators Permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and also a Recycling Permit from our office annually. It’s the law!

While our household hazardous waste program has always been a free disposal option for our residents, we have looked at additional funding mechanisms as the cost of operation continues to increase and our funding remains level. There is a donation box at each collection and people have been very generous, realizing what the cost of disposal may have been without this program. We continue to search for lower disposal costs and ways to reduce our expenses each season but still conform to Minnesota Department of Transportation and MPCA regulations for lab packing, bulking and transportation.

Electronics has been an interesting six-year adventure. Our program began in 2002 when the legislature banned commercial businesses from landfilling electronics. The law was expanded a couple years ago to include everyone, but specifically banned “video display devices” only, not all electronics. As collection services statewide developed, a few companies tried to collect huge quantities making them eligible for more funding from the state.

In a few instances a “free” collection was offered by private companies, but many of them ended in chaos, long lines, ill-prepared volunteers and lack of equipment to handle the workload. As of 2009, there are no known free collection sites for electronics such as TV sets and computers. It costs a lot of money to truck the electronics to a processing center and workers to disassemble them for recycling and many entrepreneurs learned quickly there are no free business deals to be had.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture for many years collected farm chemicals every other year throughout the state. A few years ago they abandoned their collection program and left the counties to collect the waste instead. Many of us were unable to do this or lacked resources to handle agriculture waste.

The good news is that a new program was started in 2008, and Freeborn County is part of this chemical collection program. The Department of Agriculture will collect waste chemicals from farmers again this year and the schedule will be posted on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Web site.

When the collection date for Freeborn County is announced we will help publicize the service and assist the Department of Agriculture on collection day.

If you have questions about the disposal of chemicals, electronics, tires, furniture, appliances, recyclables or other questionable items, call our office and we will attempt to help you make a good choice and explain what options are available.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is the Freeborn County solid waste officer.