Written by Shelli-Kae Foster, YES! Program Director
Manford Foster, YES! Coach with Minnewaska Schools and his YES! Students toured the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) at Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management (PDSW) in Alexandria with YES! Director Shelli-Kae Foster. Nathan Reinhold, PDSW Recycling Coordinator led the tour on December 18, 2019.
Nathan started the tour by giving an overview of the facilities and noted that PDSW was the first in the state to operate a raw energy MRF. He mentioned that the first step is to pull the recycling out of the garbage and then they can burn the rest to be used for energy. The energy generated by the MRF is used to power the local 3M plant, Alomere Hospital and the Alexandria Technical and Community College. There are 7 counties that bring all of their garbage to PWELC. When asked about polluting the air, Nathan replied that the output of toxic chemicals is equal to one burn barrel from someone burning their trash in their backyard. This is because of the care PDSW takes in making sure the toxic chemicals are stripped from the steam before it is released into the atmosphere.
Nathan also noted that recycling has changed quite a bit over the years. There is a lot of contamination in single sort recycling and therefore he suggests, “When in doubt – throw it out.” This means that if you aren’t sure whether or not something is recyclable, it is better to toss it into the garbage, rather than put something that is not recyclable into the recycling bin.
Many of the students had driven by the facilities for years, but never knew what it was all about. Now, they know more about their community such as that their garbage is being burned to produce energy for their local hospital and that when they recycle, it is being bundled and hauled away for re-purposing.
The YES! students plan to take what they learned and look for ways to improve their own recycling and composting at their school such as by helping younger students better understand how to compost their lunch.
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).