WILLMAR — After nearly 30 years of running its own multi-sort recycling program, Kandiyohi County is moving to a single-sort system, which will be run and operated by West Central Sanitation.
"I am very, very pleased with this proposal and the ability to have curbside pickup for everybody in the county," said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Roger Imdieke.
The County Board unanimously approved the proposal at Tuesday's meeting. While moving to a single-sort system had been a topic of discussion for some time, the shutdown of the county program due to COVID-19 brought the issue to the forefront.
"I am going to grieve the loss of what we have, I think we all are. We had a fantastic program that fit the times," said Commissioner Corky Berg. "Unfortunately times have changed. The COVID virus really sped this up."
In the agreement with West Central Sanitation, each residence in Kandiyohi County will receive a 95-gallon tub for recyclables. Residents will no longer have to separate their recyclables but can toss everything into the same container.
"Give us one cart to every household in the county, treating all the taxpayers equally," said Gary Geer, Kandiyohi County Environmental Services Officer.
There will be biweekly curbside recycling pickup in all cities and monthly pickup in rural areas, or for those who do not live in incorporated city limits. West Central Sanitation will also deliver Kandiyohi County's recycling to a material recovery facility.
The county's recycling center in southwest Willmar will no longer be used for recycling, though Geer hopes the county will find other uses for it. The county's household hazardous waste facility located next door is not affected by the recycling change.
It will probably take at least three months for the new recycling program to be up and running. Until then, county residents are being asked to continue storing their recyclables if possible.
"It is quite an undertaking for the contractor to order in 15,000 carts, to develop the routes," Geer said. "There is certainly a lot of work for the contractor to get completed."
The cost of the program is $771,938 per year, which is just over the 2020 budget of approximately $760,000 for the county's current program. The costs are based on a five-year contract.
"It is a very favorable bid proposal for us," Geer said.
Residents will not be charged for the service. One funding source for the county's solid waste management programs, including recycling, comes from property taxes.
The commissioners were grateful for all the work staff did to bring together the new proposal, especially on such a short turnaround due to the pandemic.
"It was a lot of work, a lot of problem-solving to get to this point," Berg said.
All of the commissioners approve of entering into a single-sort system, though there is concern for those who will be negatively impacted by the change, especially the clients of West Central Industries who worked in the county's recycling center sorting the product.
Commissioner Steve Ahmann hopes the county will find other ways to assist those clients who have lost their jobs.
"They are a very important part of our community and have been for many years. I just hope we can work with them," Ahmann said.
West Central Industries is a community rehabilitation program serving people with disabilities through support, training and employment.
Renee Nolting, executive director of West Central Industries, said approximately 27 clients worked at the recycling center on a rotating basis. They are disappointed those jobs will be terminated. Some of those clients have worked at the recycling center for most of the past 30 years.
"They really appreciated that," Nolting said.
It will be WCI's job to find those clients new employment, though it might take longer than normal due to the pandemic shutdown.
"We will work to find the next best fit for them," Nolting said.
The three goals for the new single-sort system are to increase participation in recycling, increase the volume of recyclable materials collected and extend the life of the Kandiyohi County Landfill.
Resident participation in the county recycling program has been steady but not growing for several years, making up only 16 percent of the county's total waste load. The state wants rural counties to recycle at least 35 percent of its total waste by 2030.
With the new system, which should be easier and more efficient for residents to use, the hope is more and more of the population will take part.
"Maybe with this system, recycling at 90 percent could be a realistic goal," said Berg. "I am really excited."