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  Sunday February 1st, 2015    

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Let’s recycle the contract (11/07/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

Someone in the Winona County government should be reprimanded, and consequences exacted, for the mishandling of the county’s new, “ground-breaking” recycling system.

The company with which the county has a five-year contract to pick up recycling has come back to the county and demanded more money. This is after that company, presumably, signed the contract that would bind them to its terms for five years. The county commissioners granted the increase, with Marcia Ward voting nay.

From the very first, there have been problems with the program. First, the company hired by the recycler to deliver the recycling totes, colored in what I call “Unmistakable Blue,” appears to have gone overboard, and delivered totes to 146 businesses in the county. Those businesses were not supposed to get totes. Businesses were not included in the bid.

The Winona Post did not get a tote, but the Winona Post pays the per parcel charge of $16 for the county’s recycling program. I’m sure there are many more businesses that were not included, but are being charged.

Then, surprise! The recycling truck found it hard going in some rural areas of the county, which, this being an agricultural area, cover much of the county in this hilly terrain.

The recycling company also found that it was having a problem with residents not leaving their totes on the curb (the program is for “curbside” pickup). Rather, in some in-town areas, residents are leaving the totes in the alley, or on a given block, both on the curb and in the alley. Rather than demanding the totes be left either in the alley or on the curb in a given city block, the county apparently told the provider to pick up at both locations, adding expense.

I’ll take this opportunity to complain about my own residential situation. I have a huge blue tote, and when it is time for pickup, in that tote is one grocery bag of recycling. People living alone don’t generate much in the way of recyclables. And, as winter approaches, I am wondering where on earth I am going to store this tote if we should have a normal winter full of snow. If I leave it at the end of the driveway, it will be buried in snow from the plow. But I do not have the means to haul it up and down my long, hilly driveway every two weeks. I don’t even have a tote at work to dump my grocery bag into! I’m thinking I will have to save up my empty Mendota Springs water cans and my Pinot Grigio wine bottles until spring. I certainly hope you don’t see me on the TV show, “Hoarders.”

Commissioner Ward said, “To me, a contract is a contract.” That’s what I’ve always thought, too. In fact, in my life I have been held to a contract or two that I wish could have been broken.

Before the county environmental services staff wrote the request for proposal for county-wide recycling, the issue should have been thoroughly studied. Problems should have been anticipated. There should have been rules about where the totes would be distributed. A county employee should have checked out a GIS map of Winona County and seen that there would be problems in rural areas and in some neighborhoods. Residents should have been informed of their responsibilities in using the recycling totes. They also should perhaps been given a choice as to the size of the tote they would need.

It seems to me that in their zeal to be “green,” and beat every other Minnesota county to the curb with county-wide recycling, the environmental services department has saddled us with an inferior program that will continue to cost us more and more before the five-year contract is up.

The icing on the cake, however, is that the increased amount of recyclables collected with this program was supposed to help pay its huge bill. Has it? No. The market for recyclables is in the dumpster, a fact that careful study of the market and the growing recession would have forecast.

If we’re going to be lax about breaking contracts at the county, perhaps we need to break the contract with the recycling provider in its entirety. It’s not working. 


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