Most people's understanding of the recycling process ends at the curb. Materials that are out of sight are usually out of mind. But curbside collection is just the beginning of a long journey that sees recyclable materials consolidated at local transfer stations, loaded onto trucks, and shipped to Twin Cities Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs).
MRFs are high-tech facilities where humans and machines work together to sort out the items we toss into our recycling carts. This video by Dem-Con Materials Recovery does a great job of showing how a MRF operates.
After sorting, recyclables are sent on to regional brokers or mills to be made into new products.
Olmsted County hopes to create a local destination for recyclable materials in the coming years. Our department, with the support of the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners, is advocating for the creation of a MRF on the south side of the Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility.
Provide a Local Destination for Recyclable Materials
It's important to note that the further recyclables have to travel, the less "green" the recycling process becomes. In other words, shortening the distance from curbside collection to a MRF would increase the environmental benefit of recycling. Providing a local destination for recyclable materials will significantly reduce the amount of fuel, time, and money required to sort out the items we toss in our curbside recycling carts.
Delay OWEF Expansion
In addition to providing a much closer location for the sorting of regional recyclables, the MRF would contain equipment to clean garbage (fuel) before it is processed in the waste-to-energy facility. All garbage in Olmsted County is brought to the Olmsted County Integrated Solid Waste Management System with the majority being processed through the Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility (OWEF). Garbage processed at the OWEF is used to produce energy in the forms of steam and electricity.
The fuel-cleaning equipment of a MRF would remove materials (like glass, metal, and potentially organics) that take up space, add little to no energy value, and create extra wear and tear on the facility. Removing these materials would also free up capacity to process non-recyclable waste.
As a result, the need for an expansion of the OWEF—a project that would be far more costly than the addition of a MRF—could be significantly delayed or possibly prevented altogether.
Please note: the addition of fuel-cleaning technology would NOT be a substitute for correct recycling habits at the curb. We will still need residents to place the proper items in their garbage bins and recycling carts.
Delay Further Ash Landfill Expansion
There is a direct correlation between the amount of waste processed at the OWEF and the amount of ash sent to the Kalmar Landfill. By removing glass, non-magnetic metal, and possibly organic material from the garbage, we slow the rate at which we fill ash cells.
Cleaner Fuel and Reduced Ash Metal Extraction
Currently, we remove some ferrous (magnetic) metal from ash when it arrives at the Kalmar Landfill. The MRF would sort ferrous and non-ferrous metals out of the garbage prior to the combustion process and thus capture a larger percentage. This would improve fuel quality, resulting in decreased maintenance expenses, increased uptime, and increased energy (steam and electrical) production. This would also simplify the disposal process for ash once it arrives at the Kalmar Landfill.
June 2021 | Olmsted County submits an application for $12.5 million in MN State Bonding
January 2022 | This project makes Governor Walz's budget (hopefully)
January 2022 | Begin MRF permitting pre-design
October 2022 | Receive notice of award for state funding (hopefully)—approval required by state legislature
January 2023 - August 2024 | MRF construction design permitting bidding
February 2024 - March 2025 | MRF construction
April 2025 | MRF becomes operational