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Contaminated recycling will cost us all

McLeod County has long had a vigorous recycling program and, until last week, one that we thought county residents had some pride in.
However, at a workshop held by the McLeod County Board of Commissioners a little over a week ago, we heard the disappointing news that residents are using recycling containers in cities and townships not only for recycling, but general trash they don’t care to pay to dispose of. Those items included old tires, appliances, lawn mowers and even dead rabbits. Seriously? Dead animals? And are people dumping this material because they don’t know any better? Or because they just don’t want to pay the price to properly dispose of questionable material?
That’s left the county with a sticky mess to contend with, both figuratively and literally. It seems that containers that have contaminated material must be either separated into contaminated and non-contaminated materials, or taken to the landfill for disposal — at a significant cost to the county.
Right now, it was pointed out, commodity prices for the recyclable material the county collects is way down, meaning a reduction in revenue.
Currently, the county’s main sources of revenue to offset the costs of its recycling program are commodity prices and tip fees charged at the landfill. The county has done a good job of finding end users for the products it collects; unfortunately, the prices are depressed right now.
As far as we know, McLeod County may well be the only one in the state that does not assess a recycling fee to landowners’ property taxes. That may well change if the county has to continue to deal with depressed commodity prices and increasing costs for cleaning up the contaminated materials being dumped at its recycling sites.
Of course, the easiest fix would be if people would just quit dumping their non-recyclable waste at the recycling sites. But as a commissioner pointed out, some people will violate the rules one way or another. If they don’t dump it at recycling sites, it will end up in ditches and under bridges.
One option that was considered is offering a “free day” once or twice a year, where people can bring in their questionable items without paying a fee and without fear of penalty. However, the county would still have the cost of disposing of it, and there is no guarantee that will solve the problem.
The county’s solid waste department once had a strong educational component when it came to its recycling program. Again, there is a cost to that, but maybe it’s time for some refresher education. Perhaps people would be more careful if they knew the consequences of what they are doing.
The County Board has a lot to ponder as it meets as its Solid Waste Advisory Committee and weighs the cost of various options for dealing with the issue.
We fear that a final answer may well be to impose a recycling fee to cover the costs of dealing with contaminated material. And, once again, the majority will be punished for the actions of a small group of people.