Free yard waste drop-off pilot program

By Peter Bodley
Contributing Writer

Yard waste drop-off of up to 4 cubic yards will be free at Anoka County’s two compost sites under a new pilot program.

The Anoka County Board Feb. 14, on the recommendation of its Recycling and Resource Solutions Committee, approved an amendment to its agreement with OTI Inc., which operates the yard waste composting, tree waste processing, and yard waste and organics transfer facilities at Bunker Hills and Rice Creek Chain of Lakes regional parks in Coon Rapids and Lino Lakes, respectively.

In January 2016, the board approved a contract with OTI to run to two county compost sites through Feb. 28, 2019, with two additional two-year terms if mutually agreed.

That contract charged $5 per vehicle for up to 4 cubic yards of yard waste and 50 cents for each additional cubic yard, according to Brad Fields, county director of recycling and resource solutions.

Under the contract amendment approved Feb. 14, county residents can drop off up to 4 cubic yards of yard waste at no charge, Fields said.
“That’s about 32 bags of yard waste,” he said.

Those who bring more than 4 cubic yards of yard waste will be charged $5 for each additional four cubic yards, Fields said.

The goal of the amended contract is to increase recycling in the county to meet the state-mandated goal of 75 percent by 2030, according to Fields.
“We don’t have the 2016 figure yet, but in 2015 the county was recycling 51 percent of its waste,” Field said.

Yard waste counts toward that goal and the contract change “will make it easier for residents to drop off yard waste at the compost sites,” he said.

The hope is that residents will take advantage of the free drop-off and increase the amount of yard waste collected, Fields said.

The OTI cost will be picked up by the county and paid through the solid waste management fee that is a charge on county taxpayers’ annual property tax statement, according to Fields.

“This has been accounted for in the 2017 budget,” Fields said.

In the 2016 season, 23,299 vehicles dropped off yard waste at the $5 rate for a total of $116,495, he said.

There will be no change in the fee structure for tree waste disposal, which does not count toward the county’s recycling goal, according to Fields.

But the amendment will make it free for residents to drop off Christmas trees in January. The original contract charges $1 per tree; now the county, not the resident, will pay that fee to OTI, Fields said.

Under the pilot project, the program will be evaluated at the end of the 2017 season to see if it has been successful.

According to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, if the program is deemed to have been successful, it will continue in 2018 without further action by the board.

But County Commissioner Matt Look, who is a member of the board’s Recycling and Resources Committee, has reservations about the program, which was why he proposed that it be a one-year pilot project, he said.

The state legislation setting the 75 percent recycling target by 2030 is an example of government overreach and is unattainable, Look said.

In addition, people are encouraged to mulch when they mow their lawns, yet that does not count toward the recycling goal, he said. “It makes no sense,” Look said.

But Sivarajah, while sharing Look’s concern about government overreach, said the free yard waste drop off would help encourage recycling to meet the state goal and bring Anoka County in line with Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties.

The board voted 6-0 for the amendment. Commissioner Julie Braastad was not at the meeting.