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Sorting through the trash

From left, Elmer Gilow, Mike Rogers, Kari Gilow Babler and Judy Gilow sort through trash at Hubbard County’s main transfer station this week. They are sampling six sites for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to see how Minnesotans are recycling, with an aim on reducing what goes into the waste stream. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

A waste analysis conducted this week of Hubbard County’s garbage shows that citizens need to do better at recycling and thus reducing their trash.

The study, funded by a grant to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was conducted over three days, with contract workers sampling garbage and recyclables at the South Transfer Station in Park Rapids, dubbed the Henrietta Mall.

Food that could be composted, clothing that could be passed on and buckets of pop bottles and soda cans filled each trash sample. In all, 30 samples weighing 200 pounds were separated into 15 categories, then weighed.

The Minnesota study of six sites is aimed at reducing what people throw out by shining a spotlight on what’s in our trash.

GRG Analysis of Winona is a family-owned business that samples trash all over the United States. Judy and Elmer Gilow, daughter Kari Gilow Babler and partner Mike Rogers spent the three days in Park Rapids combing through garbage, separating it into textiles, yard waste, wood, organic, box board, corrugated materials, plastics, metals and glass.

Judy Gilow said they got startled questions from trash disposers as GRG picked random samples from the transfer station express lane, the commercial haulers and the station itself.

“What are you doing?” was the most frequent question. Or, “Did you lose something?”

The Gilows, suited in haz-mat white jumpsuits, laugh.

People tend to take a proprietary view of their own trash.

Judy Gilow said passing a bottle bill would cut down drastically on the number of bottles and cans tossed away.

“You would see a big difference,” she said. “In Iowa, where there’s a bill (paying for return of cans and bottles), you don’t see any in the trash.”

Rogers said one item they’re not finding is hazardous materials, which is a good thing. More facilities to accommodate such waste, along with a better educated public, means hazardous materials aren’t entering the waste stream.

But one dangerous item they did find was needles. Lots and lots of them.

Syringes should be properly disposed of in receptacles, the sorters suggest. Many pharmacies, clinics and hospitals have such disposal sites.

A tainted needle can penetrate the thickest of gloves, Judy Gilow said.

The crew was impressed with Hubbard County’s compost pile, but said organic materials from food sources could enhance it.

“A lot of it (found in the trash) there is a market for,” Judy Gilow emphasized.

And some outlets need to be found for packaging plastic, which is inundating landfills.

“Manufacturers like it because it stacks easily. Customers like the appearance of it,” she said.

But a different mindset is needed to halt the proliferation of plastic.

With cardboard containers, merchants could easily recycle them. No so with shrink-wrapped plastic.

“We have not found a lot of newspapers so people must be recycling them,” she said.

Analysis of the waste stream hasn’t been done in the state since 1999, said Hubbard County Solid Waste Officer Vern Massie. The results locally get reported to the MPCA.

“They’ll be able to tell us how many pounds of organics went through our waste stream or how much recyclable plastic went through or tin, or aluminum, that type of thing,” Massie said.

“They’ll get a good sample of our weekend waste.” Massie said.

The sorters take meticulous notes throughout the sampling.

What we throw away says a lot about us as a society.

And Hubbard County residents may be told to step it up a notch.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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