With declining revenue streams, the Hubbard County Board is reviewing the merits of its recycling program.
The recycling market has been impacted by China’s import policies. For 30 years, China bought half of the recyclables across the world. Beginning in 2013, China implemented policies that reject or even ban shipments. This has resulted in limited or non-existent markets for U.S. recyclables.
All of Hubbard County’s recycling is taken to the Materials Recovery Facility in Fosston in Polk County.
Compostable material is also diverted from the incinerator and the landfill. Instead, it is sent to a Source Separated Organics Management facility in Polk County.
Board chair Char Christenson inquired whether the county should quit recycling items that it is not breaking even on.
“I’d like you to do some work on the (cost) breakdown,” she told County Solid Waste Manager Josh Holte at the county board’s July 14 work session. “In the long-run – with sending recycling trucks out, with staff time – does it pay to keep recycling items that have no value, that are going to end up, eventually, in the landfill?”
“My opinion, I don’t think we’re anywhere near that point right now,” Holte replied. “The counties have a (state) requirement to provide recycling.”
“Are all the recyclables able to be sold up in Fosston?” Christenson asked.
“They are able to get rid of them at this point. They aren’t looking at landfilling them,” Holte said. “Paper is really low. Cardboard is at historic low levels. Scrap metal I think they actually could be losing money on.”
Hubbard County generates about 3,000 tons of recycling per, he continued. “We have transportation up there, the same as if it would be with the garbage. We pay zero dollar tipping on the recycling. For us, pulling material out of the recycling stream just wouldn’t have a positive impact.”
Christenson asked to see the profit and loss figures from the Fosston recycling facility, along with Hubbard County’s labor costs. “I don’t want to put everything in the landfill either, but I’d like to see some solid dollar figures,” she said.
County commissioner Ted Van Kempen said if the recycling is turned into garbage, then the county would be charged a tipping fee.
“So what would that cost us?” asked Christenson.
The topic will be placed on a September meeting agenda.
Christenson also wondered why solid waste isn’t included in the county levy.
Public Works Coordinator Jed Nordin said putting solid waste department costs into the county levy is a “potentially really complicated process, but I don’t think it should be off the table. I think we could work with the assessor’s office to take a look at that.”
County Assessor Ginger Buitenwerf said a hybrid system could be implemented instead of applying a levy to all properties. “I think other options are out there and just be willing to look at those,” she said.
In related business, Holte explained that Polk County will raise its solid waste tipping fee from $65 to $75 per ton in 2021.
“That includes everything that goes into the landfill or the incinerator,” he explained, adding it’s a 15 percent or roughly $200,000 additional annual expense, depending on the volume of solid waste that is disposed.
Six partner counties pay Polk County to dispose of waste and recycling.
Since August 1988, the waste-to-energy plant in Fosston has been processing municipal solid waste into combusters, which in turn generate steam power.
“Steam sales have been low for the past several years, and that’s really been driven by lower fuel prices and also the pandemic,” Holte said. “There has been one steam customer that’s been offline pretty much the entire year.”
Polk County is also facing huge insurance costs, resulting in the need for a tipping fee increase.