Fargo scraps curbside glass recycling
Glass will be used another way after March 6, Fargo’s Solid Waste Utility Director Scott Olson said. While glass won’t be recycled after MinnKota stops accepting it, it will still have a purpose.
FARGO — In a rapidly approaching change to the way Fargo residents recycle, starting on March 6, glass will need to be excluded from curbside, single-stream recycling.
Instead, residents who don't want their glass to end up in the regular city landfill will be asked to drop their glass off at any of the city's 20 free drop-off sites.
“We have been requested from MinnKota Recycling to remove the glass from the all-in-one recycling program,” Jen Pickett, Fargo’s Recycling Coordinator, told the Fargo City Commission during an informational meeting Monday, Feb. 13.
Currently, the city collects recycling and sends it to MinnKota Recycling, 903 4th Ave. N. in Fargo. Once there, the recyclables are baled into cubes and shipped to Minneapolis to be separated, processed and sold.
The cost of recycling glass has made it economically “unfavorable” to continue, Pickett said, adding that glass has a poor market value, and the cost associated with shipping glass to the facility in Minneapolis is prohibitive.
In addition, the Minneapolis facility which used to take MinnKota’s baled-up recyclables now will only take loose recyclables, citing finances and labor shortages, according to Mary Aldrich from MinnKota.
“When there isn’t much of a financial benefit to do that work, some of the facilities didn’t want to do it any more,” Fargo’s Solid Waste Utility Director Scott Olson said.
That change presents financial hurdles for MinnKota to get the glass to the Twin Cities, so the company will no longer take glass because of the shipping cost. Glass represents about 12% of the recyclables that come into their facility, Aldrich said.
Many communities throughout the region are facing this same change, she said.
Other communities have pursued alternative uses for their glass rather than hauling it to the Twin Cities . In Otter Tail County, glass is being used as part of the base for building roads.
Glass will be used in a different way in Fargo after March 6, Olson said, adding that while it won’t be recycled anymore per se, it will still have a purpose.
When glass is dropped off, it will be crushed and used as a filtered media within the Fargo Landfill Inert Site. The inert landfill is filled with nonorganic material like wood and construction debris from common household waste.
“This is the best way to ensure that glass is repurposed,” Olson said.
Normally, the city would use sand for the filtered media; the intent is to replace that sand with glass, Olson said, adding the process has been approved by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.
“We know it's going to take time for people to adjust,” he said.
Any glass residents throw in with their trash will automatically go into Fargo’s normal landfill that accepts all household waste. Should residents put glass into their curbside recycling bins, the sorting facility will determine if they want to remove that glass or send the entire load of recyclables to the landfill.
Glass makes up around 20% of Fargo’s single-stream recyclables by weight, according to Olson, which is about 800 tons of glass each year.
The city doesn’t have the workforce to handle shipping their own recycling, Olson said, nor the equipment. This is why they hire someone to do it for them, he said.
During Fargo's last request for proposals for a recycling provider, MinnKota was the only applicant, Olson said.
The change represents a good time for the Fargo City Commission to examine how the city handles recyclables, Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said, and explore how effective the recycling program is to ensure Fargo’s money is being spent wisely.
“It would be interesting to know what the carbon footprint is for our current program and (ask), is it efficient?” Piepkorn said.
The fact that Fargo is shipping their recyclables to Minneapolis doesn’t seem very effective, he said, adding he’d like to see recyclables handled locally.
The city has been working with MinnKota since the '90s, Olson said, and shipping recyclables off. Fargo used to have a glass recycling facility, he said, but it closed down 10 years ago.
“Most people were under the intention that all these (recyclables) were going to be used for products,” Piepkorn said. “Like glass, we want it to be repurposed for glass. Not to put back in our dump.”
He feels that people will recycle less after the change.
“I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered instead of us just approving this,” Piepkorn said.
Fargo’s recycling program has been gaining momentum for years, and some commissioners expressed concern about those numbers dropping.
“What I am anticipating will happen is that people will just start mixing it in with their garbage,” Commissioner John Strand said, stressing the importance of public education with the change.
Fargo opened their first drop-off recycling location in 1990, offered sorted curbside recycling from 2002-2017 and began offering all-in-one or single-stream recycling halfway through 2017. The recycling program costs $4 a month.
The city collected 1,400 tons of curbside recycling annually from 2009 to 2016. That rose to 2,693 tons in 2017 and skyrocketed to 4,297 tons annually in 2022. The city collected an additional 3,726 tons of recyclables from drop-off sites in 2022.
“I don’t feel like that price deters anyone from the program because it is so easy,” Pickett said.
Moorhead has received the same request from MinnKota to remove glass from the city's recycling.
They have not set a date for the change to potentially go into effect, according to Steve Iverson, Moorhead’s Public Works Director. His department will discuss the change with the Moorhead City Council at a future meeting.
Should it go into effect, Iverson anticipates that it will look similar to Fargo’s new model. Residents would be responsible for bringing all their glass recyclables to the drop-off centers. If they don’t, that glass is likely bound for the landfill.
They have not yet confirmed with MinnKota what will be done with that glass once it reaches the drop-off centers.
In the weeks leading up to March 6, the city of Fargo will conduct public outreach efforts to inform residents about the change.