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Incinerator is not answer for recycling

In the article published on Feb. 6th, “Board OKs update to county waste management plan,” it was implied that improved recycling efforts in Beltrami County would be detrimental to the profits being made by the Polk County incinerator, which processes the county’s waste stream. But when Jim Lucachick states that “it’s bad if we send them a cleaner waste stream, because they don’t have a way, then, to offset their overhead costs,” he is placing the bottom line of the incinerator above Beltrami County’s required recycling goals — goals that our county is currently not meeting.

In Minnesota Statute 115A.551, Subdivision 2a., it is stated that a non-metropolitan area county will have a goal to recycle 35 percent by weight of total solid waste generation. The 2011 SCORE report — an annual examination of Minnesota’s waste management programs — shows Beltrami County’s recycling rate is only at 30.1 percent, falling short of the required goal set by the state and the state’s average recycling rate of 52.1 percent.

Any detriment to the bottom line of the incinerator should not influence the achievement of our county’s recycling goals. Incinerators do not aid in reduction or recycling efforts, but are instead the last resort in a waste management hierarchy. Before incinerators and landfills, we need increased source reduction efforts, materials reuse, improved recycling and composting. But this is not being reflected in the county’s actions. The county’s priorities represented in their waste management plan should instead be holding true to statute 115A.46, Subdivision 2b., where it states that “In assessing the need for additional capacity for resource recovery or land disposal, the plans shall take into account the characteristics of waste stream components and shall give priority to waste reduction, separation and recycling.”

Relying on Polk County’s incinerator to help accomplish the goals of the waste management plan is not giving priority to waste reduction, separation and recycling. Incinerators are not a reduction strategy and should not be relied upon in lieu of our own recycling efforts. Their ability to collect and sort recyclable materials is less effective than individuals sorting recyclables in their own homes. For example, by the time that fiber products reach the incinerator, they are already heavily contaminated and cannot be recycled. These materials end up being burned, adding to incinerator emissions that then contribute to climate change. It is extremely important that we continue to improve upon the county’s recycling and waste reduction efforts and provide a cleaner waste stream.

Caitlyn Schuchhardt


Erika Bailey-Johnson


Editor’s note: Schuchhard is a Minnesota GreenCorps member. Bailey-Johnson is Sustainability Coordinator at Bemidji State University.