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Rochester, MN (KROC AM News) - The Rochester area may have its own facility to process the recyclable materials that are generated in the community in a few years.

The Olmsted County Board has given its support to a plan to build a materials recovery facility at the county’s Waste-to-Energy facility. If all goes according to plan, it could be operational in 2025.

Supporters of the plan say it has several benefits over the current recycling program which sends the majority of recyclable materials to the Twin Cities. According to the county, one significant benefit would be the reduction in the amount of fuel, time, and money required to sort out the items placed in curbside recycling bins.

rendering of the proposed MRF connected to the Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility via RRT Design & Construction


The county is seeking $12.5-million in state funds for the project and hopes to find out next year if the request is approved. If so, construction could begin in 2024 and be completed the following year.

Here is a summary of the project from the county:

Provide a Local Destination for Recyclable Materials
It's important to note that the further recyclables have to travel, the less "green" the recycling process becomes. In other words, shortening the distance from curbside collection to a materials recovery facility (MRF) would increase the environmental benefit of recycling. Providing a local destination for recyclable materials will significantly reduce the amount of fuel, time, and money required to sort out the items we toss in our curbside recycling carts.

Delay OWEF Expansion
In addition to providing a much closer location for the sorting of regional recyclables, the MRF would contain equipment to clean garbage (fuel) before it is processed in the waste-to-energy facility. All garbage in Olmsted County is brought to the Olmsted County Integrated Solid Waste Management System with the majority being processed through the Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility (OWEF). Garbage processed at the OWEF is used to produce energy in the forms of steam and electricity.

The fuel-cleaning equipment of a MRF would remove materials (like glass, metal, and potentially organics) that take up space, add little to no energy value, and create extra wear and tear on the facility. Removing these materials would also free up capacity to process non-recyclable waste.

As a result, the need for an expansion of the OWEF—a project that would be far more costly than the addition of a MRF—could be significantly delayed or possibly prevented altogether.

Please note: the addition of fuel-cleaning technology would NOT be a substitute for correct recycling habits at the curb. We will still need residents to place the proper items in their garbage bins and recycling carts.

Delay Further Ash Landfill Expansion
There is a direct correlation between the amount of waste processed at the OWEF and the amount of ash sent to the Kalmar Landfill. By removing glass, non-magnetic metal, and possibly organic material from the garbage, we slow the rate at which we fill ash cells.

Photo taken in June - from bottom to top, Ash Cell 6 under construction, Ash Cell 5 in operation, & Ash Cells 4 and 3 being capped/closed; photo credit: Olmsted County Surveying Staff

Cleaner Fuel and Reduced Ash Metal Extraction
Currently, we remove some ferrous (magnetic) metal from ash when it arrives at the Kalmar Landfill. The MRF would sort ferrous and non-ferrous metals out of the garbage prior to the combustion process and thus capture a larger percentage. This would improve fuel quality, resulting in decreased maintenance expenses, increased uptime, and increased energy (steam and electrical) production. This would also simplify the disposal process for ash once it arrives at the Kalmar Landfill.

Potential Timeline

  • June 2021 | Olmsted County submits an application for $12.5 million in MN State Bonding
  • January 2022 | This project makes Governor Walz's budget (hopefully)
  • January 2022 | Begin MRF permitting pre-design
  • October 2022 | Receive notice of award for state funding (hopefully)—approval required by state legislature
  • January 2023 - August 2024 | MRF construction design permitting bidding
  • February 2024 - March 2025 | MRF construction
  • April 2025 | MRF becomes operational

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