Eureka Recycling speaks out against Washington/Ramsey county Minnesota, incineration scheme

[Note:  Originally published in the Villager newpaper –content not online– on April 22, 2015.0  Scan of original article here.]

Up in smoke: To burn garbage or prevent waste

By Tim Brownell and Bryan Ukena

Eureka Recycling has been tracking the discussions of the Ranset/Washington Counties Resource Recovery Authority [note:  officially called “project” not “authority”] regarding the potential purchase of the Newport Waste Processing Facility.  The Resource Recovery Authority’s approach is troubling to many of the residents of these two counties, as it is to us, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to demonstrate that waste is completely preventable.

The counties would increase the 20-year subsidy–the county environmental charge of over $227 million in taxpayer money–for a privately owned facility, with another investment of an additional $250 million to $300 million in taxpayer money over the next 20 years to buy and operated an aged processing plant.  What is even more troubling is the lack of public awareness of these discussion sand and the inability of the public to participate on the decision on April 23rd [note:  vote postponed until May 28th].

For 20 years, Ramsey and Washington counties have funded waste prevention recycling and composting for a total of about $16 million.  At the same time, $227 million hs been spent to subsidize the cost of preparing waste at Newport to be burned in Mankato and Red Wing in aged boilers.  Bu the counties’ own accounts, taxpayers have subsidized the Newport operation in an amount exceeding the cost to purchase it three times over.

With only a fraction of that funding being spent on recycling, we have now reached a 50 percent recycling rate.  However, Ramsey County does not believe we can meet the new recycling and composting goals that were set last year under the leadership of state Senator John Marty and state Representative Frank Hornstein.

We believe we would meet those recycling and composting goals if the counties invested our taxpayer dollars in the same amount over the next 20 years–$250 million to $300 million–in reducing, recycling, and composting and left the waste to be handled by the private sector.  Then, instead of burning waste that is 75 percent recyclable and compostable, these resources would be used by recycling and composting facilities where it would create 10 time the jobs and reduce our collective impact on the environment.

Burning waste contributes to the climate-changing cycle by pulling new resources out of the earth and wasting those resources in incinerators–with over 20 percent of the burned waste then landfilled as toxic ash.  Ironically, landfilling was the very thing Ramsey County’s Waste to Energy policy was supposed to avoid in the first place.

Incinerators produce more carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide per megawatt hour of electricity than coal-fired power plants.  Incinerating our trash is not a solution to greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Ramsey and Washington counties are contemplating an approach to waste disposal that would require an investment that will last for generations.  That kind of money is on a par with the $348 million investment that Minnesotans are putting up co construct the new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, but with the financial burden carried by the residents of only two of the state’s 87 counties and without public input.

Will we as a community support a plan that would literally put taxpayers’ dollars up in smoke –burning garbage instead of preventing waste, recycling, and composting?

This decision needs public engagement along with the researched consideration of alternatives that protect human health and a process that honors the community that will be ultimately paying the bill.

If you agree with us, we urge you to contact your county commissioner today and let him or her know.

Editor’s note:  Tim Brownell and Bryan Ukena are co-presidents of Twin Cities-based Eureka Recycling.  Originally the recycling branch of the St. Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium (now the Neighborhood Energy Connection), Eureka became an independent business in 2000 and received nonprofit status in 2001.  It is one of only a handful of nonprofit recycling service providers operating in the country today.


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