A refuse facility in Newport, operated by Ramsey and Washington counties, is annually sending only 10 percent of its waste to landfills. And, next year a $43 million expansion at the Ramsey/Washington Recycling Energy plant will launch the largest organic food-scrap recycling program in the state. The plant is a product of years of collaboration by the two counties as they try to improve environmental practices. But not everyone is cheering.
Some environmentalists worry about the side-effects of the program. The plant reaches its landfill goals in part by burning garbage in incinerators in Red Wing and Mankato. “It’s nothing we should emulate,” said Lynn Hoffman, co-president of Eureka Recycling, which manages recycling for St. Paul. Hoffman said the plant’s aggressive approach fails to address the bigger issue — too much garbage produced by consumers and manufacturers. “Our big concern is this is not so much of a vision. This is not so ambitious,” said Hoffman.
The plant managers say they are doing exactly what the state asked them to do. Guidelines established in 1989 say that landfills are the worst possible place for garbage. State officials prefer that garbage is handled by — ranked in order — reduction, re-use, recycling, composting and incineration. They want landfills to be the last resort.Nikki Stewart, senior environmental resource manager of Washington County, said work on the addition to the plant is now underway. It is expected to result in 30,000 tons of organics recycled annually, plus 34,000 tons of other recyclables.
Stewart said she is proud of the plant’s environmental record — processing 445,000 tons of garbage last year, recycling 14,000 tons of metal, and generating electricity for 1,250 homes. The plant sent only 10 percent of waste to landfills, a rate about one-third that of any other metro-area counties.