Cold Feet on the Eve of Budgeting for Recycling

I wonder what would happen if those of us in government made a deal with the taxpayers and citizens; here’s the framework: as our part of the deal, we in government offer to be smart and resourceful with our dollars and spend them as an investment in a worthwhile outcome. In return, we the taxpayers and citizens agree to be more conscientious of our behavior and willing to change to deliver that same outcome.

Here’s the topic: recycling in Minot.

Now, before I go too much further and before you judge too quickly, let’s all acknowledge that even raising the question implies that we’re not being smart and resourceful with your dollars. I’m not sure that’s true. We may well be on a great path regarding Minot’s starting-in-2019 recycling program.

But on the budgetary eve of earmarking $2.5 million in 2018 for a transfer station and marrying Minot taxpayers to an eternity of hauling costs estimated at $400k per year (we have to get said recyclables to the nearest recovery center in Minneapolis), I’m getting a case of cold feet.

Now, before you react to that second number, in household terms, it’s not an enormous amount; it’s about $33 per year. In return for that $33, we get to forget about our environmental footprint and pitch our cultural leftovers into a big bin, the contents of which magically disappear once a week. As a bonus, we get to feel good about it too because we’re, you know, ‘recycling.’

If you haven’t guessed, my concerns are as much the money as the discarded significance of our unsustainable habits. If our goal is to be more environmentally conscious and responsible, I have doubts about how hauling what-used-to-be-garbage 500 miles to Minneapolis gets us there. If our goal is to say we recycle so we can feel good about ourselves, then, by all means, hand me a beer so I can self-medicate away the hypocrisy of modern American environmentalism.

Long story short, I’m wondering if we should press pause on our recycling program till a little later in 2019? Doing so splits the start-up costs over two budget cycles; it also gives us time to perform one last system check.

Here are some of the other questions I’m asking:

  • We’re embarking on a permanent and expensive program; should we request a feasibility study from an outside agency to double check all our conclusions before leaping?
  • Glass is heavy. Considering the hauling costs, does it make sense to exclude glass from Minot’s recycling program to improve the quality and efficiency of our material stream?
  • If we charge ahead with the transfer station, would it make sense to design it for future double duty in the event MRF processing prices improve?
  • MRF processing equipment is expensive, but manufacturers do make small-volume systems that may match Minot’s demand? Have we gotten or should we get a quote and at least see what it costs to sort our material before investing in hauling?
  • Have we asked around to our neighboring communities to see if they’d prefer to send their recyclable streams to some place nearer than Minneapolis? Perhaps there’s enough volume being produced by our North Dakota and Canadian neighbors to justify the sorting equipment investment?
  • How many jobs would an MRF create? What if we could sustain operation of an MRF with the same subsidy we’re going to earmarking towards hauling? If we’re creating a half dozen jobs to run the facility, maybe it makes sense to subsidize our local operation rather than subsidize profits in Minneapolis?
  • Plastic bags are one of the biggest contaminants of a recyclable-material stream, and when they slip in with the other material, they reduce the value of the final raw commodity. Should we consider a ban on plastic bags so we can improve the financial return of our recyclable commodities? It’s likely a small financial gain, but a big environmental one. On the downside, it’s going to make people angry because plastic bags are cheap and convenient.
  • What impact would a plastic and glass bottle deposit program have on program buy-in? If North Dakota required a 10-cent bottle deposit on glass and plastic, would that incentivize behavior without bearing the costs of a citywide program? Perhaps it’s an issue that calls for engagement from our state legislators to change North Dakota’s policy as a whole?

What do you think? Full steam ahead with recycling or slow it down? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by emailing me at josh.wolsky@minotnd.org. And don’t be shy; I’m asking because I want to hear!

On the other hand, if you’re a Vikings or Twins fan willing to help out by pulling a trailer of recyclables on your way to a game, I’d like to know that too!

 

Josh Wolsky

Writer & Developer, The Minot Voice

Josh Wolsky is a Minot native and developer of the Minot Voice. He is also actively involved the Friends of the Souris River and all efforts to #MakeMinot. He also had the recent misfortune of being elected to Minot's City Council.

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