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Recycling a priority, Lake County surveys says

Lake County residents want more opportunities to recycle, but many are also confused about what is recyclable with the resources available, according to the results of a survey recently conducted by the Environmental Services Department.

Minnesota GreenCorps member Kendra Klenz has been working in the office since September to research and increase recycling rates in Lake County.

GreenCorps is an AmeriCorps program with funding provided through a grant from ServMinnesota and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The GreenCorps program, started nine years ago, is a partnership among the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), local governments, organizations and AmeriCorps. Forty members are serving in different capacities around the state.

Lake County has a goal of reaching a 35 percent recycling rate by 2025, meaning 35 percent of all waste in the county is recycled instead of transferred to a landfill.

Currently, Environmental Services estimates the county recycles a little more than 21 percent of its garbage. Klenz plans to use the results of the survey to identify barriers to individuals' recycling practices and ways to remove those barriers.

Nearly 400 county residents responded to the survey, with most in the county reporting they have their waste picked up by a garbage hauler, except in Fall Lake Township, where there are no options. Most of those residents are also recycling at least some of their waste, with the numbers split between those who have it picked up and others who take their recycling to a center, like those in Two Harbors and Fall Lake.

Many residents responding to the survey reported some of the barriers to recycling included the frequency of recycling pickups in most of the county; a lack of bins provided for homes; and clear instructions regarding how and when to take advantage of opportunities to recycle and what is recyclable.

Satisfaction with recycling opportunities was highest in Silver Bay, where there are weekly pickups. Recycling there must be sorted, which was reported as a barrier in other parts of the county.

Many residents reported confusion about what types of plastics are acceptable at Lake County facilities, where to dispose of old electronics or appliances and what constitutes hazardous waste. Currently, county facilities can only accept plastic types 1 and 2, with types 3-7 going into garbage. Many respondents also requested the county expand the types of plastic it can accept and the availability of recycling bins in commercial and public places like gas stations, parks and government buildings.

The Environmental Services Department is submitting a application to MPCA for a Environmental Assistance Recycling Grant for 2018-19 that will help remove some of the barriers. The Lake County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution in support of the approximately $67,000 grant request, which would provide money for a mobile recycling center that would be taken to events and festivals around the county, like Heritage Days in Two Harbors and Bay Days in Silver Bay.

The grant would also fund a booklet mailing that would be sent to residents detailing what is and isn't recyclable, where to bring recycling and what haulers offer pickup service. The department also plans to update its website to make the information more readily available for residents.

Neva Maxwell, Klenz's supervisor in the department, said there was a pilot project at the Lake County Arena that began in the fall to place recycling bins at the facility. Maxwell said there was a positive response at the arena and the department is looking into ways to expand the program to other public buildings.

Maxwell said the high number of respondents to the survey, despite the lack of an incentive, boosts the county's case for the grant by demonstrating residents' engagement and interest in increasing the county's recycling options.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Silver Bay City Council and high school sports in Lake County. 

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