The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 25, 2012

North Mankato eyes change in trash and recycling

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — After years of routinely renewing the garbage/recycling contract with Hansen Sanitation, the North Mankato City Council took a peek this fall at alternatives.

They found that Waste Management, which provides residential trash and recycling services in Mankato, was willing to provide service in North Mankato at $5.65 per household per month — $1.82 less than Hansen. In addition, Waste Management was proposing an option where residents could dump all their recyclables — paper, plastic, cardboard, cans and glass — in a single container.

That single-sort recycling system, to which Mankato intends to switch in 2013, is a marked contrast to the way North Mankato residents are currently required to handle recyclables. Under North Mankato’s rules, residents are asked to put out as many as seven separate grocery bags to hold paper, cans, plastics, brown glass, clear glass, green glass and blue glass.

The council decided, with Jan. 1 fast approaching, to go with Hansen and the strict recycling system for at least one more year. But council members indicated they want to more thoroughly discuss the refuse/recycling contract in coming months.

Larry Biederman of LJP Waste & Recycling, which also made a bid, said he thinks co-mingling of recyclables in a single container is the wave of the future.

“I think it’s here to stay, and I think it’s where the public is demanding it go,” Biederman said.

The carefully separated recyclables produce a better product to sell after collection and result in fewer loads being diverted to the waste stream because of contaminants, said Councilman Bill Schindle. But the city is making recycling more difficult than some residents will accept, which means the recyclables at those households are going straight into the garbage bags anyway.

“People like easy. If it’s easy, they’ll do it,” Schindle said of switching to single-sort recycling. “... Overall, I think it’s going to be a loss in what’s sent to the landfill.”

Councilwoman Diane Norland suggested sticking with Hansen for another year and discussing the matter in time to make a switch, if the council wants to, in 2014.

“If you promise to get it done,” said Schindle, who is leaving the council at the end of December.

The issue is complicated by the existence of the Riverbend Recycling Center in North Mankato — a facility jointly owned by the city and Nicollet County that prepares curbside recyclables for sale on the recycling market. The facility handles household recyclables from throughout Nicollet County, other than St. Peter.

The Waste Management bid that offered co-mingled recycling would have taken the recyclables to its own sorting facility, leaving the city-county facility with a fraction of the recyclables that it’s now handling. The facility is largely staffed by MRCI, which provides jobs for area residents with developmental disabilities, so accepting the Waste Management bid would have an employment impact for that population, along with a small number of city employees.

The city currently requires Hansen to deliver recyclables to Riverbend Recycling and could continue to do that with whoever wins the next contract. But Riverbend is set up to deal with only materials that are meticulously separated.

Dealing with everything from cardboard to bottles to plastic to metal arriving in a motley mixture would require the creation of an entirely new processing line at the city-county recycling center.

“We’d likely have to make some modifications, potentially even structurally,” said interim City Administrator Mike Fischer.

And that would have to be a decision made jointly by the city and Nicollet County.

“If there are going to be changes, then we really have to bring in the county,” Fischer said.

All those issues played into the decision to stick with Hansen for 2013. But even if the city decides to stick with the current recycling system, there may be some pressure to seek proposals beyond Hansen for 2014 because Waste Management was offering a monthly rate $1.32 cheaper than Hansen even without single-sort recycling.