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Are you putting garbage in the recycling bins?

It’s going to cost Freeborn County

Freeborn County will soon begin being charged for people who are using recycling bins for garbage in the county under the new recycling contract with Waste Management recently approved by the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners. 

Mark Goskeson, solid waste manager with the Freeborn County Environmental Services Department, said under the contract, the county will be charged $35 per trip by Waste Management for garbage that has to be hauled away from rural drop boxes, and starting in 2022, the company may impose contamination charges for drop site customers, specifically a $2 fee per drop-off site container that has garbage found. 

In an effort to reduce those charges, the county hopes it can educate people about the costs the county could incur, which will ultimately affect taxpayers. 

Goskeson said the new seven-year contract has a 24% increase in cost — in part because of low commodity prices for recycling, but also because of the high contamination that has been mixed in with the recycling. 

“This past year has been pretty bad with trash — that’s both residential and rural drop sites,” he said, noting he wasn’t sure whether that can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic or some other cause. 

When non-recyclable items are included in the recycling bins, those items have to later be separated, which he said is very time-consuming, and, in turn, costly.

Garbage was left out at the recycling site in Geneva last month. Photo courtesy Freeborn County Environmental Services

“We all end up paying for these people that disregard reading a label on the recycling container or simply don’t care,” he said. 

In the last four months alone, he said he received 166 messages regarding residential properties that had contamination in their recycling bins. He noted Waste Management has cameras on its trucks and has wireless cameras at different rural sites and in several cases has gone through and given fines to people violating rules. 

Goskeson also sends letters out to people in violation, and if the issue is not cleared up, then the bins are pulled. 

Goskeson said another change in the new contract is which recycled items will be accepted. Moving forward, recyclable items with Nos. 1, 2 and 5 will be accepted, while Nos. 3, 4, 6 and 7 will no longer be accepted. 

No. 3 items are made from PVC and include plastic tubing, children’s toys, or other plastic furniture made of PVC; No. 4 items include grocery bags and other bags that hold newspapers, sliced bread and fresh produce; No. 6 items include items made out of polystyrene, such as disposable coffee cups, package peanuts and to-go food containers; and No. 7 items are often made out of multiple plastic types that can’t be easily recycled. 

Overall, Goskeson said, recycling in the county was down in 2020, which he attributed to businesses being closed during the pandemic.