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A look at a recycling program in Dickinson

DICKINSON - Tara Hanel saves her No. 1 plastics so she can recycle them in Bismarck. That's just one step this dedicated recycler has taken in a city with limited reuse and recycling options.

"Just because...Dickinson has a smaller population doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about recycling. Eventually it's going to all come back to haunt us. Eventually it's going to build up," she said.

Hanel, 25, said she'd like to see the city of Dickinson start a mandatory recycling program.

"Right now is a good time to push recycling because there's a national awareness," she said.

But City Administrator Greg Sund points out that Dickinson's location far from major recycling centers makes a city-sponsored program an economic challenge.

"I think in most cases we would have to haul things to Fargo or farther," he said.

Sund predicts collecting and disposing of recyclables would be more expensive than doing the same with garbage. He said if city residents did express a groundswell of support for a recycling program, there would be higher costs involved.

"People would also have to volunteer to pay more money," he said.

Leroy Hutmacher, who works at the city's baler building and landfill, puts it another way: "Recycling is a good thing but it's spendy."

Hutmacher said the city currently makes an effort to keep used motor oil, large appliances, corrugated cardboard, concrete, asphalt, yard waste and some scrap metal out of its landfill. Sund said the city is not running out of space for solid waste but is looking into acquiring more acreage near the landfill. The city in March awarded a $390,000 bid for the construction of a new landfill cell.

G&G Recycling in Dickinson buys aluminum, brass and copper and accepts tin, corrugated cardboard, shredded and unshredded white office paper, car radiators and household appliances for free, said part-owner Jason Polanchek.

Sund said the city balks at broadening is current efforts to avoid edging G&G out of the market.

"When we have a private business person doing it, it's unlikely the city would compete with them," he said.

In contrast to Dickinson, Williston has had a drop-off recycling program for about 17 years, said Patti Fiorenza, the city's recycling coordinator. She said the program was sparked by interest from residents.

"People like the fact about saving the earth," she said "That's the reason why we actually started this because so many people were asking about, you know, starting a recycling program."

The city began with newspaper and expanded to office paper, corrugated cardboard, books, magazines, phonebooks, used rechargeable batteries in cell phones, tin and aluminum, Fiorenza said.

"Every time we recycle something that means it's not going to the landfill," she said. "The longer we can maintain our landfill and keep it where it's at, the better it is for everybody."

However, the city isn't able to break even on the voluntary program even now when prices for recyclables are "fairly good," Fiorenza said.

"Recycling here we're always going to end up having to pay," she said.

Fiorenza said Williston faces the same problem as Dickinson in overcoming the distances to recycling centers.

"Recycling is difficult for us because we're so far from everybody else," she said.

Fiorenza said recycling glass and plastic are out of the question for Williston. "There's no money in it, and shipping is so expensive," she said.

Williston's recyclables get hand-sorted by workers hired through Opportunity Foundation which employs developmentally disabled people.

LuAnn Casler, who oversees the recycling for the Opportunity Foundation, said the program kept about 515 tons out of the landfill last year.

"It's saving the life of our landfill. It's got to be more cost effective than trying to find land and digging and lining and all that other stuff you have to do to have a landfill," Casler said.

Mary Anderson, the director of Able Inc., said her organization, which also employs the disabled, would be interested in getting involved in recycling in Dickinson.

"I think we could carve out our own niche here with aluminum...and do the kinds of things we're doing in Bowman," Anderson said, referring to the existing can-recycling program in Bowman.

Opportunity Foundation bales or boxes recycled materials and ships them to the Minot Vocational Adjustment Workshop, a similar organization 130 miles to the east. MVAW hands the recyclables over to MinnKota Recycling in Fargo.

Mary Aldrich, the sales manager for MinnKota, said her company then looks for the best prices in the region for the different recyclables.

"The markets are out there no matter where they're at. It's just a matter of a community making a commitment...and getting enough to make it worth their while," she said.

Aldrich said that because of the oil boom affecting Williston, finding deadhead trailers leaving town has not been difficult.

"There's no problem getting material out of there. They're bringing material there like crazy. They don't have loads out of that area. So it's a good time for them to act," she said.

But rising fuel prices have made trucking recyclables more expensive, said Williston's public works director Monte Meiers.

Peter Sharpe, who buys old newspapers for an egg-carton production plant in Moorhead, Minn., said he was surprised to hear that Dickinson doesn't have a broader recycling program. He said shipping costs from here would be similar to those from Minot.

Sharpe said he'd be happy to purchase newsprint from the city.

"I'd love to buy their paper direct. I could probably pay them a little bit more since I don't have to pay a broker. The problem is I'm only interested in their newspaper," he said.

He recommended that the city contract a broker to get good deals on all materials and avoid administrative hassle.

"The brokers will have so many more contacts to help even out market swings," he said. "Especially just going in brand new if you don't have any market expertise, they're the ones that'll...get you up and going quicker."

Adrian Benz, the pollution prevention and recycling coordinator at the North Dakota Department of Health, said the state presently does not have any financial incentives or assistance to offer communities looking to start recycling programs. But his department can provide technical support and answer questions, he said.

Benz said he doesn't see a mandatory statewide program on the horizon.

"I believe that we're more of a state that tries to promote the best practices instead of telling people that they have to do it," he said.

Sund said Dickinson does not have plans to expand their efforts, but said the city is open to considering other ways to recycle and reuse.

"I don't think the doors are closed on anything," he said.