Where does waste go after we toss it out?

Published 10:16 am Thursday, November 15, 2012

Column: By Randy Tuchtenhagen, Solid Waste Officer

Where is our waste going? We put garbage out for collection and we also recycle. What happens to it?

Just because someone hauled it away does not relieve us of the responsibility for what happened to it and where it went. Someone must ensure that the waste we produce ends up in an acceptable, permitted, environmentally responsible disposal site. This responsibility most often ends up being your state or county government. There are rules and laws to ensure our environment is protected from pollution and illegal dumping and disposal.

Randy Tuchtenhagen

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Solid waste haulers in Freeborn County, both recycling businesses and garbage haulers, are required to obtain a solid waste permit before beginning their business activities. They must provide proof of insurance, proper driver licensing and copies of other required state or federal licensing.

Haulers also must report to the county what kinds of things they collect, how much and where it went. Our garbage haulers take all waste collected in Freeborn County to the legally permitted landfills in Lake Mills or the Steele County landfill south of Owatonna.

In 2011 more than 24,740 tons of trash from our county was disposed of at these two facilities. If you multiply that figure by $50 per ton, you get an idea of how much we spent to dispose of our waste.

Our county has a high percentage of people who recycle. In 2011 more than 17,000 tons of recyclable materials were collected. If you multiply that number times $50 a ton (landfill rate) the financial savings are obvious. Additionally the state of Minnesota collects 9.75 percent tax on garbage for households and 17 percent tax for a commercial business. There is no tax on recycling.

A 20-year-old Minnesota law requires garbage haulers to offer “volume based pricing.” This means if you reduce the amount of service to a smaller container, the company must reduce the rate they charge. If you or your company reduces waste through better purchasing and recycling more items instead of placing everything in the trash, there are significant savings and the increased recycling volumes will add value to our county program.

Freeborn County offers not only curbside recycling for city residents, we also have more than a dozen recycling drop sites throughout the county for rural residents. We also offer a curbside collection program for small commercial businesses. Larger volumes from industry have recycling opportunities available and we work with them to identify the special services and equipment needed to be successful. Most recycling collected throughout the county goes to Recycle America in Minneapolis and some small amounts are marketed elsewhere. Our office tracks where that material goes on our annual reports.

One more issue about wasting our resources. Garbage disposed of in a large hole in the ground does not go away, does not decompose and has a long term care price tag attached. Repairing sink holes, preventing methane gas from leaking into the atmosphere and groundwater protection for the life of that landfill are costly.

Reduce waste. Recycle often. Take personal responsibility for the future of the environment we leave behind.


Randy Tuchtenhagen is the Freeborn County solid waste officer.