HILLSBORO, N.D.-In September, the Hillsboro City Commission was notified garbage service costs likely would soon increase by $1,300 due to a steady increase in municipal and commercial waste.
But there was another option which commissioners approved in November, The city could charge all of its residents for recycling, which would increase Hillsboro's revenue for refuse costs and decrease the amount of waste it has to pay for, City Auditor Matt Mutzenberger said.
Almost 200 Hillsboro residents pay $5.65 every month for curbside recycling, according to a staff memo. With 650 households paying a new rate of $4.25 every month, the memo predicted Hillsboro will collect $2,762.50 every month.
Across North Dakota, cities are offering more recycling services to cut back on landfill use. Western cities like Dickinson and Jamestown already have committed to curbside pick-up programs, and others like Minot and Williston are considering adding the service, Diana Trussell, solid waste project manager for state Department of Health, said Friday.
In Devils Lake, the city owns and operates its own recycling center, where city and county residents can drop off plastic, glass, newspaper, cardboard and more at no charge. City residents pay for pick-up services through a charge built into their utility fees, and those charges cover a contract the city has with Legion Region Corp. to collect recycling.
Helen Carlson with the Devils Lake Engineering Department said she was involved with early efforts to bring curbside pick up to her city. Through her involvement, she became a de facto expert on city sanitation.
Every morning Monday through Friday, city sanitation staff collect municipal waste, bring it to a local transfer station and drive it to the Grand Forks landfill, approximately 90 minutes east of Devils Lake.
"Obviously, it's an expense, but look at what the other options are," Carlson said. "I mean, for a while, they were taking the municipal waste to the Sawyer landfill, and that was even further away."
Devils Lake had budgeted approximately $745,000 this year for collection, $670,000 for the transfer station and driving the refuse to Grand Forks, and $53,000 for maintaining the city's inert landfill, which is different from a landfill for municipal waste because it only accepts refuse that isn't biologically or chemically reactive, like construction and demolition debris.
Those amounts also cover benefits and wages for the city's sanitation crew, which Carlson said includes nine full-time employees.
Using private groups
Grafton City Auditor Connie Johnson said her town doesn't offer recycling. Instead, residents have access to drop-off centers in town through private groups.
For garbage, Johnson said the city has had a contract with Refuse Disposal Service for decades. The business is responsible for hauling all of Grafton's municipal waste to the Mar-Kit landfill in Hallock, Minn., about 40 minutes away.
Years ago, Refuse Disposal Service would simply bring local garbage to the town's own landfill, Johnson said.
"And then the state required that the landfills be closed down," Johnson said. "So we went to an inert landfill. And it turned out that we had standing water and we had to close that down. ... I don't know exactly the reason, but I think it was just the standing water. So everything's hauled to Mark-it now."
Johnson said she couldn't foresee any big changes for Grafton garbage and recycling in the near future.
"It's been working very well," she said. "We've had Refuse doing this work for us for so long and they're very dependable. They do a very responsible job, so there's not any conversation about doing anything differently at this point."
There are 13 regional landfills for municipal waste left in North Dakota, according Trussell. The state has been regulating landfills under current regulation since the 1990s, when it adopted the Environmental Protection Agency's rules relating to nonhazardous solid waste.
According to those rules, landfills need liners, and their operators have to maintain monitoring systems for groundwater, leachate and landfill gas.
Grand Forks has had two landfills for municipal waste. The first one, neighboring what is now the wastewater treatment facility, closed around 2009. The city still keeps its inert landfill over there, which Public Works Director LeahRae Amundson said is mostly for local waste.
A newer landfill the city opened almost a decade ago on the other side of town has state approval to serve the region for another 80 years, Amundson said.
"As a regional landfill, we take in municipal solid waste from cities in our area," she added.
Last year, the city was responsible for about 35,000 tons of its own landfill. Other cities that work with Grand Forks, including Hillsboro and Devils Lake, were responsible for approximately 25,000 tons.
"It's a pretty important piece of infrastructure to the region," Amundson said.
Grand Forks residents automatically pay for recycling services through their refuse fees, which covers recycling, garbage and seasonal services like yard waste drop sites. The city has been recycling since the early 1990s, Amundson said.
"And we were the first in North Dakota to have a curbside program," she added.
In 2017, Amundson reported the city had collected 2,100 tons of single stream recycling from curbs and drop sites. The city also had collected 8,000 tons of diverted materials like brush, leaves and grass clippings, all of which the city reuses, she said.
"It's an integrative program," Amundson said. "It all relates. The more that we can recycle, the more that we're conserving our landfill space and reducing costs on those sides."