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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 21 2013

FM's green growth: Local firms part of enhanced recycling efforts

Fargo - Barbara Hartleben and her husband weren’t always big recyclers.

But when their kids made them converts to the green lifestyle, they took to recycling cans, bottles, newspapers, plastic, paint and electronics in a big way.

“We recycle any and everything we can,” said Hartleben, who recently dropped off a truckload of recyclables in south Fargo.

“It’s just better for the whole environment,” the Fargo woman said, adding that it’s a gift to future generations.

“That’s why we got on the bandwagon; to make it a better place for our grandkids,” she said.

As of today’s 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, tens of thousands of people in the Fargo-Moorhead area have hopped on that bandwagon to recycle tons of metal, glass, paper, cardboard and more annually – some of it right in our backyard.

Mary Aldrich, the sales manager for MinnKota Recycling, said newspaper and glass don’t have far to travel to be made useful again.

Newspaper collected in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is sold to the Pactiv Corp. plant in Moorhead and turned into egg cartons.

Glass is taken to West Fargo, where Glass Advantage grinds it into something that can be used for glass blasting, which is similar to sand blasting.

“It’s nice to be able to have that local source so you don’t have that high transport cost,” Aldrich said.

MinnKota is the recycling broker for about 40 communities in North Dakota and western Minnesota, including Williston, Bismarck, Casselton, Fargo and Moorhead, she said.

Other items are recycled farther afield, she said.

•Aluminum cans are shipped to a plant in Alcoa, Tenn., to be made into new beverage cans.

•Steel and tin cans are sold around the country, though the market now is in Ohio. The metals, once melted back down, can be turned into more cans, metal beams, cars, washers and dryers, etc.

•Corrugated cardboard and box board (think cereal boxes) is shipped to plants in St. Paul and Becker, Minn., to be remade into cardboard or other boxes.

•Plastics are sold around the country. Depending on the type of plastic, it can be turned into a lumber-type material used for decks or fences, lawn and garden edging, drainage tile, toys, clothing, carpet or new containers.

•Shrink wrap and stretch film used by local manufacturers is sold to a firm in Phoenix that turns it into decking and fencing materials. About 68 percent of recyclable products come from businesses, Aldrich said.

•Sorted office paper is sold to tissue mills in Michigan and Wisconsin. Toilet paper and hand towels are 90 percent post-consumer paper, she said.

The turnaround time is quick for some items, Aldrich said.

A printed memo from your boss can go from the recycling bin to becoming a tissue to catch a sneezeful of your snot in 60 days. Or, a metal can may be back on a local store shelf in 45 days.

Recycling is a robust industry, Aldrich said, employing about 1.1 million people in the U.S.

Recycling an aluminum beer or soda pop can creates nine jobs from the time it leaves your home to when it’s molded into another can and returned to store shelves, she said.

Not a money-maker

The city of Fargo has a growing recycling program, said Terry Ludlum, the city’s solid waste utility director.

The program isn’t a money-maker, but it is required by the state for Fargo to keep its landfill permit, Ludlum said.

In 2012, the recycling program cost Fargo about $945,000, including the purchase of an automated recycling truck and new 200-gallon containers to replace the dome containers that held glass and metal. The new bins are easily and safely handled by automatic lift trucks.

Fargo normally spends $645,000 a year on the recycling program, Ludlum said.

Fargo receives about $135,000 from the sale of glass, magazines, metal, cardboard, newsprint and aluminum collected curbside or at recycling drop sites.

All recyclables are taken to MinnKota Recycling. MinnKota gets a protected base price for its work, and then Fargo gets 60 percent of the market rate over that base, Ludlum said.

Glass is “the biggest loser from a revenue side,” Ludlum said.

The aluminum market is strong; metals and cardboard markets are good; and newsprint and plastic are OK markets, he said.

Fargo began free curbside recycling in August 2008. Recycling participation jumped 22.5 percent after curbside recycling was introduced, Ludlum said.

Last summer, Fargo and Moorhead expanded their recycling to include plastics numbered 1 through 7 and box board.

Saving landfill space

Fargo’s been able to extend the life of its landfill, now pegged at about 11 years, through recycling, Ludlum said.

In 2012, the city kept thousands of tons of material from being buried, including:

•1,705.42 tons of newsprint.

•890.15 tons of glass.

•363.43 tons of plastic.

•152.24 tons of metal.

•2,593.59 tons of cardboard.

•408.16 tons of magazines.

•7,576.26 tons of yard waste.

•About 5,000 tons of wood waste (trees, branches and pallets).

In years with big storms, or when the forestry department was felling ash trees to prepare for infestations of emerald ash borer, the landfill grinds up 10,000 tons of wood, Ludlum said.

Wood chips and composted yard waste are given away to residents.

What isn’t given away is now sold to an ethanol plant in Minnesota for about $12 a ton. The plant mixes the chips with turkey manure and burns that as a fuel to make ethanol, he said.

In 2012, the Fargo landfill took in 200,174.37 tons of waste, Ludlum said, but that number is dropping.

Residents are improving their shopping habits, meaning less waste, he said. Also, there are more opportunities to recycle clothing, shoes and furniture with groups like Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, The Arc, the YWCA and Churches United for the Homeless, he said.

Recycling computers, televisions, paints, fluorescent bulbs and other household hazardous waste remains costly, Ludlum said.

The city paid about $150,000 to offer those services in 2012, he said.

Moorhead’s efforts

Chad Martin, operations manager for the city of Moorhead, said the city kept about 6,500 tons of recyclables out of the landfill in 2012. That includes:

•80.04 tons of metal cans.

•197.22 tons of glass.

•143.29 tons of plastic.

•556.49 tons of newsprint.

•228.8 tons of residential cardboard.

•1,468.53 tons of commercial cardboard.

•93.45 tons of magazines.

•338.04 tons of mixed paper.

•4.99 tons of high-grade paper.

•1.88 tons of phone books.

•359.81 tons of appliances.

•14.55 tons of tires.

•909.38 tons of construction and road demolition material.

•2060.15 tons of yard waste.

About 28,053 tons of material was landfilled, Martin said.

Moorhead spent $260,995 on recycling and $268,400 on composting in 2012, Martin said.

The sale of recyclable material brought in $32,000, while the county chipped in $135,000 in state pass-through funds for recycling.

Clay County handles electronics recycling at the landfill near Hawley and in a shop building at 1300 15th Ave. N. in Moorhead (that’s from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month), said Shannon Thompson, the county’s environmental programs supervisor.

Household hazardous waste is collected at 2729 Highway 10 E., Moorhead, from April to October, Thompson said.

Fargo eyes expansion

Jennifer Pickett is the recycling coordinator for Fargo. She took over the job in January.

She’s now studying how to expand recycling for businesses, condominiums and apartment complexes.

Pickett is running pilot projects with apartment and condo groups from just a few joined residences to 48-plexes, tracking the recycling to find what works best.

Ludlum thinks a big impact can still be made in capturing landfill gas.

“From an overall impact, I think, the most conscientious we can be to the Earth is capturing greenhouse gases,” he said.

In March, the city began investigating how to remove impurities from its landfill gas to use it to fuel city trucks.

About two-thirds of the city’s landfill gas is now sold to the Cargill seed plant in West Fargo.

The rest of the gas runs a 925-kilowatt generator at the landfill. The power is sold to Cass County Electric, and the generator’s waste heat warms the transfer station.

Ludlum said the city is also studying the possibility of incinerating trash to generate power sometime in the future.

But right now, Hartleben just wishes everyone would recycle.

“You see so many things sitting in the garbage,” she said.

“Right now, you don’t think of the consequences long term. Fifty years from now, how much more plastic could we throw into the landfill? I wish everyone could do it (recycle),” she said. “I wish everyone would.”


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