The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 1, 2013

North Mankato goes to MIXED RECYCLING

Announcement a reflection of years-old reality at recycling facility

By Dan Linehan

---- — NORTH MANKATO — Ladies and gentlemen, mix your recyclables. Residents of North Mankato are now being told to put paper and plastic in the same container for pickup at the curb.

The city doesn’t have to change how it picks up or sorts recycling — it has mixed paper and plastic for at least a few years at its recycling facility. So, in effect, the news is an acknowledgement of what is already a single-sort recycling method at the Riverbend Recycling Center.

But while the city mixed recycling at its destination, its website told residents to separate newspaper, cans and plastics at the curb. And it asked them to separate their glass by color — clear, brown, green and blue.

Why did the city mix recyclables at its facility while telling residents to separate it at the curb?

Public Works Director Brad Swanson said when Riverbend opened in 2004 it was designed to accept recycling pre-sorted into two “streams,” basically plastic and paper. This is called “dual sort,” and Swanson said that’s how most residents still believe they should sort their recycling.

“Now, that philosophy was obviously the way everyone wanted to go when this building was built,” Swanson said.

But, over the years, that has changed.

One of the reasons is that the resident-sorted recycling couldn’t be reliably free of other types of waste, making it less valuable to the companies that actually recycle it into new products.

That means the recycling that was dropped off at Riverbend had to be put through the sorting process, in this case by clients of MRCI Worksource, which employs people with developmental disabilities.

There are other operational reasons that the recycling got mixed up on the floor at Riverbend, Swanson said.

“Because of the size of the facility, we couldn’t immediately take it where we wanted to,” he said. “It ends up co-mingling on the floor as you’re trying to process it.”

“At the end of the day, through multiple factors, it ends up being single-sort,” Swanson said.

Riverbend has operated like this for awhile, at least several years. Swanson said he took over at the recycling center about a year ago, and he’s not sure why residents weren’t told of the change before that.

The city’s mixing of recyclables was described in a report by a consultant delivered to the City Council in early October. That mixing was also evident during a reporter's tour on Wednesday. Nothing appeared to be sorted before it was sent up a conveyor belt to the MRCI workers, who sort it into about a dozen separate bins. Large cardboard boxes, which are compressed in a nearby machine, appeared to be the only recycling not sorted by the MRCI crew.

While pre-sorted recycling would help the MRCI crew, the Riverbend facility does not have a large enough floor to store multiple pre-sorted products or compact them immediately, Swanson said.

In its Friday morning news release, the city said it made the announcement “as a result of existing practice and the recommendations to North Mankato staff by FOTH Infrastructure & Environment, LLC., to prepare for a transition to single-stream curbside recycling collection.”

The city plans to ask for proposals next year to help the city determine whether or not to move from totes to carts for curbside pickup, according to the release.

The city has also been considering changes to Riverbend. The consultant’s report described how the sorting by MRCI clients is more expensive than a company like Waste Management sorting at one of its facilities.