Recycling Center

Products waiting to be sorted at the Polk County Recycling Center. Polk County staff have been directed to research options for recycling in the county and return to board members with a recommendation about whether the county should continue to operating the recycling center.


With drop off bins overflowing and a mountain of recyclables awaiting sorting, the Polk County Board will consider whether the county should continue to operating its own recycling center.

“What we’ve heard is the way we’re doing it now we have recycling bins in certain spots in the county that get flooded,” said Supervisor Chris Nelson, who sponsored a resolution to explore options including closing the recycling center. “Other people in the community are paying for recycling. Then you have these [free] drop offs that get overwhelmed. … The county is stock piling recyclables now and has to actually pay someone to store them.”

The full board approved Nelson’s resolution September 17, prompting county staff to research options and bring recommendations to the board in six months.

Recycling economy changing

The recycling industry is changing, according to to Public Works Director Emil “Moe” Norby.

“Currently all recycling programs are experiencing different economic environments than two to three years ago,” Norby wrote in a letter to the county’s General Government Committee. “Commodity markets are down and material recovery facilities need to produce better quality recyclables to secure a market.”

Market changes are largely due to new restrictions on imports in China. In addition, state grant funding has not increased since 2011. Operating expenses continue to increase. 

“Our facility has not seen any major improvement since 1990 with the exception of a roof project in 2010,” Norby wrote.

The facility has four full-time employees and some part-time staff. The center has not been able to keep pace with more recyclables coming in.

“This year we have had to turn away or hold off haulers due to the high volumes of recyclables coming in to the facility to keep up,” Norby wrote. “With the current conditions of the market and operational costs, the recycling center is dependent on tax levy for its operation.”

Pierce County, which also operates its own material recovery facility, charges a fee to offset replacement costs and years when markets do not cover costs. Polk County does not have such a fee. 

Options and impacts

The county has three options, according to Public Works Director Norby. The first is to continue operation of the recycling center by investing in infrastructure and equipment, either using tax levy funds or instituting a recycling fee. The second is to contract with a private company to operate the facility. The third is to close the recycling center, which would impact some residents, depending on who hauls their recyclables.

If the county decides to close the recycling center, written notification is required to the DNR and businesses or agencies that contract with the facility. 

“We would want to notify haulers and anyone else who delivers materials,” Norby wrote. 

The county would also need to make sure residents have some way to recycle. 

“Naturally we would need to communicate with all communities and residents if this action is taken,” Norby wrote. “The impact on the residents of Polk County depends on what we do. If we contract with someone to run the facility there is no impact on our residents. If we close the [facility] there will be an impact on some of the county’s residents, depending on who hauls their recyclables.

“This process of closing our facility would take one to two years so haulers, communities and residents can transition smoothly to a new recycling program.”

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