Fargo-Moorhead drops curbside glass recycling, citing costs
Residents of Moorhead and neighboring Fargo, N.D., can no longer put glass in their curbside single-stream recycling bins.
Glass can still be brought to recycling drop off sites in both cities, but it will be reused locally rather than being shipped to a Twin Cities recycling company.
MinnKota Recycling, which handles curbside materials collected by Fargo and Moorhead, said it made the change after Twin Cities businesses where it sent material decided they would no longer take shipments of glass, plastic, aluminum, paper and other materials compressed together into bales — the kind MinnKota sent.
“And so now we have to ship that material to them loose. We have to reprocess all this material,” said MinnKota sales manager Mary Aldrich, pointing to cubes of baled recycling piling up outside the facility.
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It led to the decision to no longer accept glass mixed with other recyclables.
Transporting recycling that's not baled increases the cost because they can't squeeze as much on a truck, she said. Broken glass can also contaminate paper, lowering the value. Broken glass mixed in with other materials is also dangerous for employees and hard on equipment.
A few years ago, baling single stream recycling was common but the industry is moving away from the practice said Bill Keegan, president of Dem-Con, a Twin Cities waste management company. Dem-Con handles recycling from communities across the region including Fargo-Moorhead.
Dem-Con will no longer accept baled recycling starting in July. Keegan said the baling process compresses the materials so badly that as much as a third of baled material can't be recycled.
“So, for example, you have an aluminum can that gets smashed around a plastic bottle that gets smashed around a piece of paper and they're all stuck together in one big clump and they can't be separated,” he explained.
That means recycled materials need to be delivered loose in trucks. Keegan said most of their customers have already made the transition, and a majority are keeping glass in the mix.
MinnKota, however, decided to take glass out of the single stream recycling and find a more economical use for it. The glass will be crushed and used to replace sand as a filter material in the Fargo city demolition landfill. The state of North Dakota approved the change.
Aldrich calls it a commonsense solution.
“I foresee this as being more sustainable and economical. It lessens the carbon footprint. We're not transferring material back to the Twin Cities, we're using it locally,” she said. “Can't beat that.”
A few other local governments have also found local uses for glass: Otter Tail and St. Louis counties use ground up glass as a road construction material, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Aldrich thinks there's more interest in local reuse as a way to save money.
Since the change in Fargo-Moorhead was announced, she’s had a few calls from landfill operators wanting to know more.
“I am hoping that we actually can start a movement and get people to stop doing things just because we used to do it that way and let's start recycling a lot smarter, doing it the right way, more economical and more beneficial,” said Aldrich.
“I don't see this as a trend that will continue where programs are going to stop recycling glass,” said Wayne Gjerde, recycling market development coordinator with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Gjerde acknowledges the cost of managing recycled glass is a challenge, especially for communities farther away from processing facilities in the Twin Cities.
“Where the issue is and has been going back a few years is the profitability of glass. The glass price is around zero to minus $25 a ton,” he said.
“But whether it's profitable or whether it's not profitable, that doesn't mean that it doesn't need to be recycled.”
Minnesota law requires materials to be recycled with a few exceptions such as using glass in road construction material, said Gjerde.
“As you can tell by the 70 percent recycling rate or capture rate, people want to recycle glass,” he said.
“People should be confident if they put glass in their recycling bin, whether it's curbside or a drop off, it gets to a market.”
Aldrich, with Fargo’s MinnKota Recycling, is willing to consider hauling glass to the Twin Cities recycling market again if the economics improve. For now, though, she sees a local solution as the most economically and environmentally-sound choice.