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Published November 19, 2013, 08:51 PM

State requires more trash to stay out of Grand Forks city landfill

In a close, contentious vote in August, the Grand Forks City Council put the kibosh on an expanded recycling program that would have included larger recycling bins for all homeowners and a bigger recycling bill.

By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald

In a close, contentious vote in August, the Grand Forks City Council put the kibosh on an expanded recycling program that would have included larger recycling bins for all homeowners and a bigger recycling bill.

But it probably won’t be more than a year before that debate returns again to the council.

City Administrator Todd Feland, who had been the head of public works before his recent promotion, said he hopes to “reinvigorate those talks” and make a decision in 2015.

Why do so when his boss, the mayor, cast the tie-breaking vote to not expand recycling?

What’s been a bit lost in the debate over recycling is that the city, as a landfill operator, is required by the state to increase recycling. According to Feland, there is a consensus on the council that more could be done, just not a consensus how it ought to be done.

The state’s landfill permit and state law, in fact, says landfills should aim for a diversion rate of 40 percent, meaning 40 percent of the garbage should be recycled or reused.

Currently the Grand Forks landfill has a 28 percent diversion rate. That’s an increase from 23 percent in 2009, when the city received a landfill permit from the state.

Landfill fight

It took most of a decade for the city of Grand Forks to build the landfill it uses now.

Feland remembers well that time in the early to late 2000s when he fielded many angry questions from potential landfill neighbors and coordinated the response to the legal challenges.

He said the city had to win over three federal agencies and fight to ensure the state didn’t limit where landfills could be built.

In addition, the city fought and lost a legal battle with Turtle River Township, where residents opposed a landfill in their backyard. That ultimately forced the city to use the current site in Rye Township where it has control of zoning.

After that kind of a struggle, no one at City Hall is eager to revisit the issue. The landfill is designed to last 80 to 100 years, depending on how much garbage is diverted and how big the population grows.

The landfill permit, though, is up for renewal in April.

Because of that, Feland has told the council, the city should demonstrate to the state that it’s diverting as much garbage as it can.

Progress

According the city, it is making progress reducing the garbage going into the landfill.

Between 2009 and 2012, the residential recycling rate grew 19 percent. That includes paper, plastic, metal and glass. Yard waste, such as leaves and grass, grew 38 percent.

On the down side, the amount of brush and branches, which the city charges to grind and chip, was down 21 percent. The city believes contractors found other ways of disposing that waste when the city increased its fees; burning is cheaper but the city is no longer allowed to do that.

The amount of metals and appliances diverted was down 59 percent, but the city said the rising value of metal probably convinced people to bring the waste to scrap yards or private recycling depots that pay money for it.

Tactics

The push for larger recycling containers was part of an effort to increase the residential recycling rate.

LeahRae Amundson, who runs the city’s recycling program, said the experience of other cities suggest that larger containers will be more convenient and recycling rates would increase 25 to 40 percent.

The second phase of that effort is to go to a pay-as-you-throw system for garbage, like what East Grand Forks has, which could increase recycling by another 25 percent, she said.

That means the more garbage a residence produces, the more it costs, which gives people an incentive to recycle.

Amundson said the city also hopes to get more apartment complexes to recycle. Only half do so now and she said it’s because they’re loath have an additional Dumpster take up space that could be used for parking. Smaller containers could help, she said.

Residential recycling makes up about 28 percent of the total amount of garbage Grand Forks diverts from the landfill.

Perhaps a bigger opportunity, Amundson said, is the yard waste, including fall leaf pickup, which makes up 47 percent.

As the city grows, she said, she expects the young trees that populate new neighborhoods to grow larger and provide more yard waste. Capturing that, she said, could be as simple as adding more drop sites closer to those neighborhoods, though even with those there is an element of NIMBYism.

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