Moorhead stops its commercial no-sort recycling program


However, it’s not going to be through a city-run, no-sort recycling effort that was started last October with 47 businesses as a pilot program.

There’s one simple reason for canceling the city program: It was found that a private business — regional recycling powerhouse MinnKota EnviroServices Inc. in particular — can do it cheaper.

In a presentation Monday, June 24, to the Moorhead City Council, which unanimously approved dropping the pilot program at the end of June, Moore explained that a better option to divert 5% more garbage would be improving recycling at apartments and other multifamily housing units.

Moore said in an interview after the meeting that multifamily housing makes up 33 percent of the city’s households but only recycles 12% of recyclables. If it’s increased to 20%, 25 tons more a month, or about 300 tons annually, would increase the diversion rate almost 1%.

“It’s a matter of talking with management” of the multifamily units to increase recycling participation from its residents, he said, as well as communicating with those residents more. The garbage department will map out where low recycling rates are occurring and then increase communication with them.

There is also a problem with “contamination” in the city’s no-sort recycling effort in the apartments as people are often bagging unacceptable materials and putting them in recycling containers when proper recyclables should be dumped without bagging into containers.

Moore said the city should be proud, however, of its residential recycling program as homeowners make up 67 percent of households in Moorhead, but they are recycling 88 percent of the tonnage.

The city collects all residential regular garbage, including recycling, and also provides regular service to all businesses — except recycling. However, MinnKota is also involved in the citywide process as it also takes all of the city’s residential recycled garbage.

Mary Aldrich, sales manager for MinnKota, said no-sort is definitely a more expensive service, but she’ll welcome back the 47 businesses who were in the city pilot program, although she said their program is not identical and the transition might not be seamless.

However, Adrich believes it was a “good decision” for the city to drop its program.

Moore ran the numbers and for a business with a larger, four-cubic-yard dumpster serviced twice a week, the proposed 2020 city commercial rate would be about $101 per month. But if no-sort recycling was added it would be about $140 per month.

If the city started its own no-sort program permanently after using grant money to run the 9-month, no-sort effort, Moore said it likely would have also required hiring another employee, paying $800 for each dumpster for the businesses and possibly buying a rear loader.

The private collector can simply do it for less, he calculated and told the city council. Aldrich agrees and said their price for that same business would likely be about $120 per month with the no-sort option.

However, she is becoming concerned about the recycling business in general as the markets for recycled products such as plastic and paper are way down because of the trade wars and tariffs, especially with China. She said recycled material exports to China, India and Asian countries are down about 30 percent.

“It’s similar to the problems farmers are facing,” she said about the effects of the trade war and tariffs.

Moore, however, is hopeful the citywide residential and multifamily no-sort recycling effort, started in 2018, will keep improving.

He said it’s becoming even more important as the city grows with the amount of garbage collected increasing every year, too.

The overall diversion rate for recycled garbage in Moorhead was 19% in 2017 and 20% last year.

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