Crow Wing County commissioners learned more about a proposal to reduce the number of drop-off recycling sites in the county at a recent committee of the whole meeting.

There are almost a dozen drop-off recycling locations, but the county is considering reducing that number to five as a cost-saving measure in addition to ending curbside recycling subsidies for cities.

“The proposal, as is, is that in 2020 we would go with five drop sites, no subsidy for a curbside,” County Land Services Director Gary Griffin told the county board at the Tuesday, Nov. 19, meeting.

The five proposed drop-off sites discussed at Tuesday’s committee of the whole are: Crosby, Crosslake, Crow Wing Township, Nisswa and the county landfill.

“This proposal is part of our budget proposal for 2020, which we will vote on,” Commissioner Steve Barrows said Thursday.

Griffin said at the Sept. 10 county board meeting, ““If the rates of recycling increase -- and we’ve already gotten some preliminary requests for next year -- if we did nothing, we’d run out of money in about four, five years, as far as to provide drop sites for our county.”

Drop-off recycling sites

The 2020 requested funding and new county-proposed funding for 2020 are, respectively: $78,000 and $85,800 for Crosby; $29,200 and $32,100 for Crosslake; $15,000 and $16,500 for Crow Wing Township; $90,000 and $99,000 for Nisswa; and $32,000 and $35,200 for the county landfill.

“This map shows you the five drop locations that were decided where we would keep them. We tried to, if you will, spread them around the county the best we could with the funding,” Griffin said.

“We have talked to all of these drop locations. We have not had any pushback. A lot of the smaller ones are basically kind of happy they’re going away. Contamination has been a big issue with drop sites … putting the wrong recyclables in the wrong bucket if you will,” he said.

A yearly permit is required to use the Ideal Township Transfer Station drop-off recycling location, the funding for which is not proposed to continue. The cost is $10 for residents and $12 for nonresidents. The permit entitles users to access the facility and includes unlimited recycling.

“They are currently the only drop site right now that really is opposed to having their funding cut,” Griffin told the board.

Commissioner Paul Koering said, “I think you need to point out, too, Gary, is that the reason why this started to come about — and we talked about it at the solid waste committee — is if the trend was, if it kept going the way it was going, we were going to run out of money.”

The board of commissioners approved, for example, at its Tuesday, Sept. 10, board meeting the city of Crosby’s request of the county for $15,000 more to operate Crosby’s recycling drop-off center, to be paid from recycling reserve funds.

The board also approved in February a request by Nisswa to increase the 2019 recycling funding by the county from $45,000 to $68,000 to operate Nisswa’s recycling drop-off center.

Curbside recycling

Baxter, Brainerd, Breezy Point, Pequot Lakes and Ironton offer curbside recycling strictly for their residents. Baxter officials recently took into account in that city’s 2020 proposed budget the county would likely eliminate funding for Baxter’s curbside recycling program.

“What’s government doing in there, giving these subsidies to the cities that they just give them back to the hauler? Recycling costs ‘x’ and if costs go up or down, that hauler should adjust accordingly with their customers,” Griffin said.

The county solid waste committee recommended the county eliminate subsidizing of curbside recycling.

“It’s been really tough because if you say you’re going to reduce funding, you know that’s not going to be received well,” Griffin said. “With that, we’ve gotten two letters — one from the city of Pequot Lakes, one from the city of Breezy Point — asking that we reinstate that funding.”

The 2019 actual funding of Pequot Lakes and Breezy Point was $10,000 and $12,500, respectively. For 2020, Pequot lakes requested from the county $13,250, and Breezy Point requested $7,600.

“At this point, we are still sticking with the (committee’s) recommendation unless instructed otherwise,” Griffin told the county commissioners.

Griffin said if a city’s population is more than 5,000, such as Brainerd and Baxter, the city is required to have a recycling plan according to a Minnesota statute.

“Those two cities have chosen curbside recycling as their main way to recycle, and they’re not going to change that, and they have to do it whether we give them a subsidy or not,” Griffin said.

When Crosby entered into an agreement to provide a local recycling drop-off site, there were three in the area, including one in Crosby, one in Ironton and one in Deerwood, but Deerwood discontinued the service, and Ironton has moved to curbside recycling.

“In 2021, we would like to look at trying to negotiate one contract with the hauler to do all of our drop locations to try and get a better bang for the buck. That also has mixed reviews with some of the haulers,” Griffin said.

Recycling costs

Eric Loge is president of the Pine River-based Waste Partners Inc. He attended the committee of the whole Tuesday.

“It costs about $30, $35 a ton to bale it. … The thing is, can you collect enough of it to warrant doing this economy of scale thing? … I think where you fall into trouble is if you don’t know and understand the reasons for the recycling problems,” Loge said.

Those problems include items placed in recycling bins that are not recyclable and single-stream recycling, where recyclables of various types are mixed together in a single bin making it easier for the customer, versus dual-stream recycling where paper products are singled out.

“What dual-stream does is allows you to separate those materials much more easily,” Loge explained to Koering.

China had been importing about 40% of paper, plastics and other recyclables from the United States. But after China’s new environmental restrictions went into effect, exported scrap — from plastics and paper to aluminum, copper and stainless steel — dropped considerably.

“I’m sure everybody is aware recycling costs have spiked. Cardboard was $130 a ton. Now, it’s down to $30 a ton, so it’s dramatically reduced how much you can get for recyclables,” Griffin said.

FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.