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Plymouth County chooses local recycling option

Friday, April 6, 2012

Will no longer bring recyclables to Cherokee landfill

LE MARS - When it comes to recycling, Plymouth County has severed ties with the Cherokee County Solid Waste Commission.

The Plymouth County Solid Waste Agency Board, known as the landfill board, decided last week to stop hauling recyclable materials to the Cherokee landfill to avoid paying for the service.

Instead, the county's recyclable materials will be paid for and processed by Van's Sanitation & Recycling, in Le Mars.

As for city of Le Mars residents, they will continue to use the blue recyclable totes and put them curbside, where Van's will pick them up and take the materials to its facility.

Rick Bohle, Plymouth County landfill board chairman, said the change occurred after new management at the Cherokee site asked the county to pay $34.50 a ton for its recyclable material, starting April 1.

Mark Leeds
"That was not the agreement we had with them," Bohle said.

Since signing a contract with Cherokee in 2007, Plymouth County has brought its recyclable materials lumped together, separated from household trash, to the Cherokee landfill free of charge.

Currently, there is a difference in opinion between what Cherokee officials identify as "pre-sorted" recyclables and how Plymouth County defines it.

"We take all of our recyclables co-mingled together over there. Now they don't call that pre-sorted," said Mark Loutsch, Plymouth County landfill board member.

Mark Leeds, chairman of the Cherokee Solid Waste Commission, said the commission defines pre-sorted as the recyclables should be sorted by like kinds.

"By them (Plymouth County) throwing all of their recyclables in the back of the truck and bring it to Cherokee, we have to dump them out and sort through them," Leeds said. "By our definition, that is not pre-sorting."

Since Cherokee has to sort the materials prior to processing and selling them, Plymouth County should help pay for those time and labor costs, he said.

"It's a very expensive process to sort the recyclables," Leeds explained. "They should be paying the $34.50 per ton fee."

The pre-sorting debate arose during a review of Plymouth County's contract as part of the solid waste commission's efforts to seek cost-saving measures, Leeds said.

"We are no longer able to continue business as is," he said. "We are looking at all our counties' contracts at ways to change our rates."

Buena Vista and Ida Counties also bring household waste to the Cherokee landfill.

At the direction of legal counsel, Plymouth County Landfill officials thought it better to just stop taking recyclables to Cherokee rather than pursuing the matter farther, Bohle said.

"We decided if they need to make money on it, we would take it someplace else," he said.

Last week the landfill board approved accepting $10 per ton from Van's Sanitation & Recycling for the county's recyclables, a proposal offered by part-owner Scott Vander Sluis.

That means rural communities will bring recyclables to the landfill where they will be weighed and paid for accordingly and transported to Le Mars, Vander Sluis said.

Other cities' recyclables will be brought directly to Van's future Material Recovery Facility (MRF), weighed on a certified scale and paid for, he said.

Vander Sluis said he plans to open a MRF, where recyclables will be sorted and shipped from, in the former ICON Ag building, on Business Highway 75, north of Le Mars.

"I will pretty much have everything set up within a few days and I will have recycling trucks going out of there," Vander Sluis confirmed Tuesday.

In addition, he will be working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to determine any requirements that need to be met, Vander Sluis said.

For example, because Iowa law mandates that a percentage of each landfill's refuse must be recyclable, those materials have to be accounted for.

"The main thing that has to be done is the reporting to the landfill so they can have the credit for the recyclable numbers," he said. "It's my job to help the community and the landfill in reaching those goals in whatever way I can."

Plymouth County Landfill board members and staff will be discussing how the $10 tonnage fee Van's will pay for recyclables will be used, said Mark Kunkel, landfill manager.

In addition to Van's, the landfill board considered other companies' proposals to take over the county's recycling including Firstar Fiber Corp., in Omaha, Neb., Kunkel said.

"They didn't really know how much they were gong to pay because it depends on the quality of them (recyclables) as to what they pay up to," he said of the Omaha company.

On top of that, the recyclables materials would have to have been transported 125 miles, which would mean additional costs, Kunkel said.

By accepting Van's guaranteed offer, there is a cost-savings for the landfill when it comes to transportation fees -- and there is no additional charges to residents, Bohle said.

"The only thing we're changing is we are not going to be able to take glass anymore," he said.

Vander Sluis confirmed that in the near future glass will no longer be accepted from Le Mars or rural residents for recycling.

City and rural residents will soon be receiving more information about the change, Vander Sluis said.

"It's dangerous (to accept glass). It eats up equipment and you've got people touching stuff so they are able to get cut as well," he said. "The market in it is very low."

Even though Plymouth County has changed where its recyclables are hauled, its immediate plans are to continue transporting household garbage to the Cherokee County Landfill.

There is still a contract, ending in 2017, between the two entities with Plymouth County paying $34.50 per ton to take its garbage to Cherokee.

Leeds said the Cherokee County Solid Waste Commission is considering rate changes to help its financial situation.

Cherokee officials have met with representatives from Plymouth, Ida and Buena Vista counties about rate changes and will do so again when "more solid numbers" are available, Leeds said.

"We are in a financial predicament. We're trying to get our feet back under us again," he said. "We are asking counties to willingly agree to that rate increase."

No decisions have been made about Plymouth County's garbage contract with Cherokee, Bohle said.

"Right now we are going to honor our end of the contract," he said. "But if they up our rates, we may look elsewhere."

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