Article taken with permission from The Edgerton Enterprise, Volume 138, Number 42 – November 18, 2020
Where does your recycling go?
By Jill Fennema, Edgerton Enterprise
All the recycling that Van Dyke Sanitation picks up in Pipestone County goes to Millennium Recycling in Sioux Falls.
Shannon (Blom) Dwire is the president of Millennium Recycling. She grew up in this area and graduated from Southwest MN Christian High School in 1994. She joined the staff at what was at that time called Python’s Recycling and Midwest Office supplies in the late 1990’s, after graduating with a degree in graphic design and advertising.
Finding that the job market for her field of study was already overpopulated, she began working a couple of jobs and soon found herself with a temp job at Python’s. That temporary job took her from data entry to working with some customers, running errands, and even running some equipment when they were short-staffed.
“I jumped in wherever they needed me,” Shannon recalls. “They decided I should stay and I took on a full-time position.”
When management changed over, Shannon was offered a temporary management position. When Jake Anderson bought the company in 1999, he asked Shannon to stay on and she has worked for him ever since.
“This business is never dull. It is ever-changing, and we are always challenged and learning. That is always what kept me here and many of the reasons I have loved being here,” Shannon said.
Over the years several members of her family have taken up roles at the company, too. Her husband Travis was an auto mechanic and worked for various dealerships. He decided to get out of that line of work and drive truck and do mechanics on all types of equipment for Millennium. Shannon’s mother, Deb, was looking for part time work. Shannon brought her into the office and she continues to enjoy that work. When Phil and Deb lost their dairy barn to a fire, Phil joined the Millennium staff as well. He worked with equipment and took an operations manager role. Now, Shannon’s brother Shawn has moved into that work, while Phil transitions towards retirement. Shannon’s sisters also helped out with odd jobs when they were younger. “Each person grew into the positions they had and between benefits, healthcare, and opportunities, it worked with various family members,” Shannon said. “It brought challenges with learning to work together, but has really been a blessing.”
Millennium processes recycling within a 300 to 400 mile area. They primarily sort and market single stream materials. Their customers include businesses, trash haulers, and municipalities in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. They also help other areas of the country when they have room, and have received materials from Saskatchewan, Canada, Kansas, and North Dakota.
On average, Millennium processes about 18 tons of recycling per hour. A roll off truck full of recycling from Van Dyke Sanitation can be run through their system in about an hour.
Shannon explained that single stream recycling – where all the various materials are collected and not presorted, is the most popular form of recycling and most communities go that direction.
Their residue rate – the percent of materials that do not ship back out – is about 4 percent. At the paper mill or plastic mill where their materials are shipped, another few percentage points of yield is lost. But most of the materials they received make it out to be recycled.
How clean do your recyclables need to be?
“Rinsed and empty is all we ask,” Shannon said. “It does not have to be perfectly clean. A peanut butter container is probably the most challenging – and if that is scraped out with a rubber spatula that is good enough. Labels are fine.”
What can be recycled and what can’t?
Most people know that they need to look for a recycling symbol on the bottom of plastic containers. Shannon says that they advise that if the item is a bottle, tub, or jug it can easily be recycled. The numbers 1 through 7 on the bottom usually indicate that it can easily be recycled. But not every container with the recycling triangle is recycled – that’s because even if it can be recycled, there is not necessarily a market use for them. One of those items are plastic salad and food containers – the plastic used in those containers can be recycled, but there is no one buying that material, so they typically still end up in the landfill and are part of the residue rate.
Of course, plastic and glass are not the only things that can be recycled. Paper and cardboard are a big part of recycling. These items can be mixed right in with glass and plastic in the single stream process.
When Van Dykes dumps – or tips – their truck of recycling at Millennium, it can be sorted by the equipment there in about an hour. There are employees who work with the sorting equipment, but much of the process is automated.
There are some items that cannot be recycled that often end up in the bins – items that can really mess up the process. One of those items are plastic grocery bags. It is really important that these bags not be placed in recycling bins. They get tangled in the equipment and plug up the machines. The only time you can put a plastic bag in your recycling bin is if you are using it to contain shredded paper. Otherwise plastic bags need to be bundled and brought to places that specialize in those types of bags – because they can be recycled, but Millennium recycling does not do that.
One of the challenges of single stream is getting the right materials in the mix. Just as Van Dyke Sanitation has experienced locally, some people do not put the right materials in their recycling bin. Shannon says that the rules need to be enforced and the public needs to be continually educated about what can and should be recycled.
“It is enforcement of proper use of the program. People should not just put garbage in the recycling – whether by being “wishful” of its recyclability or just not sorting out what doesn’t belong,” Shannon explained, adding that education is key to reducing contamination and garbage haulers and city and county administrators should be enforcing the proper use of the programs.
“It is proven – when done right – to have a large participation rate. It’s easier for collection and it’s cost effective,” she said. “We believe in setting up programs that are done well and we believe consistent and regular education is key,” she added.