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Helmut Schmidt, Published June 27 2012

Fargo, Moorhead recycling programs expanding

FARGO – The cities of Fargo and Moorhead are expanding their plastics and cardboard recycling programs starting Sunday.

Plastic containers with recycling symbols 1 through 7 will be accepted, whereas before only items made of Nos. 1 or 2 were accepted – generally, containers with a neck, such as soda, milk, detergent and shampoo bottles.

Cardboard recycling will expand from corrugated boxes to include cereal and soda boxes, shoe boxes, milk and juice cartons and chipboard and paperboard, officials for the two cities said Wednesday.

Fargo Recycling Coordinator Brady Brunsvold anticipates a big increase in material diverted from the landfill, thanks to the change worked out with Minnkota Recycling, which does the actual recycling of the material and sells it on the open market.

“I do think we’ll see some serious tonnage increases in that 25 to 35 percent range,” Brunsvold said.

Moorhead Public Works Director Chad Martin said his city is mirroring the move because it also contracts with Minnkota Recycling.

“It will make it a lot more convenient for the homeowner,” Martin said, as well as extend the life of the Clay County landfill.

“Anytime you can reclaim it (trashed material), that’s a good thing,” Martin said.

Brunsvold said demand by homeowners has driven the change.

In 2008, before Fargo instituted curbside recycling, 21,907 tons of recyclables were picked up at drop sites. By 2011, 26,800 tons of recyclables, a 22 percent increase, were being diverted from the landfill, Brunsvold said.

“Everybody wants to go green,” Brunsvold said. “I think that probably stems from other communities on the East Coast and West Coast where they see all these things being recycled and they say ‘Well, why can’t we do that?’ ”

Recycling is not a moneymaker. For example, Fargo’s recycling budget in 2011 was $750,000, and its revenues were $230,000, Brunsvold said.

The cost difference is sucked up as a service to city residents, he said.

But the payoff from the amount of material kept out of the landfill, which extends the usable life of the landfill, does have a dollars-and-cents payoff in the end, he said.

For example, in 2011, the city diverted 85,000 tons of material from the landfill with the curbside and drop-off recycling programs, plus yard waste, paints, electronics and other recycling programs.

That’s nearly a third of the roughly 300,000 tons of material collected, Brunsvold said. Roughly speaking, that means extending the life of the city’s landfill by a third, he said.

Seeking such savings is also a requirement of the state permit for the Fargo landfill, Brunsvold said.

West Fargo does curbside recycling of glass bottles, steel, tin and aluminum cans, and newspapers, said Dennis Correll, sanitation manager for the Public Works Department.

Cardboard and plastic bottles and containers with symbols 1 and 2 can be dropped off at the city’s recycling drop-off points, Correll said.

While there is discussion about expanding plastic and cardboard recycling to curbside, Correll said sanitation crews are pressed to keep up with the growth of the city.

“We’re growing so fast, there’s not really any money to expand as far as manpower for recycling trucks,” Correll said.

Expanding the recycling for Moorhead and Fargo will drive its cost up a bit, Brunsvold said.

With cardboard, corrugated is the best stuff. Everything else, such as shoe or soda boxes, is lower quality and brings less money on the open market.

That’s also true for plastics. Recyclable plastics marked 1 and 2 are higher-quality material. By mixing in Nos. 3 to 7, that lowers the quality of the recycled product and the price, he said.

“We do what we can to make it work cost-effectively,” Brunsvold said.

Brunsvold said single-stream recycling, which doesn’t require extensive sorting, is not yet in the cards for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. He said only one outlet, Waste Management, does that type of recycling.

He said it’s costly to transport the recyclables to where they will be processed, and since sorting technology still isn’t top-notch, the quality of recycled material varies, which knocks down the price.

“Until the technology catches up … we want to find something that will meet our goal of reducing the waste going to the landfill,” Brunsvold said.

If he could, Brunsvold said he’d add Styrofoam, plastic grocery bags and junk mail and office paper to the list of recyclables. But each of those items has challenges. For example, Styrofoam can be difficult to collect. Mail and paper present security concerns.

Still, if the prospect of a greener ecological footprint doesn’t appeal to your inner recycler, Brunsvold notes that some homeowners can keep more green in their wallets by recycling – if the efforts allow them to reduce the size of their trash collection bin. In Fargo, the largest bin costs $14 a month, medium bins are $9 and small bins are $6.

“A milk jug … is easily recyclable, and you could quite easily save yourself a handful of money,” Brunsvold said.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583