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[GreenYes] High-tech recycling on our horizon? Times of Northwest Indiana 26nov01

High-tech recycling on our horizon? Lake County explores state-of-the-art
system to ease landfill dependency.

Jerry Davich / Times of Northwest Indiana 26nov01

Think of it as a high-tech, multimillion-dollar Erector set that sorts
through trash like nobody's business. Except in this case it's listed as new
business for Lake County solid waste officials.

In Medina County, Ohio, that state's second-fastest growing region, there's
a massive two-story recycling center that has attracted 17,000 visitors from
26 countries since 1993. It's also a mandatory field trip for thousands of
area students there.

"It's definitely not just another recycling plant," said Bill Strazinsky,
district waste coordinator for Medina County.

All the trash in that north central Ohio county -- including all
residential, industrial and business waste -- gets delivered to a central
processing facility, owned by the county waste district, but operated by an
outside environmental firm.

This 60,000-square-foot facility, dubbed the "waste gate," handles about a
million pounds of trash a day, delivered by a dozen or so different waste
haulers.
"We call it the 'we've got you covered' plan," Strazinsky said, "because
even if residents choose not to recycle, we've got them covered by doing it
at this plant."

Using the latest technology, a fleet of forklifts and some old-fashioned
elbow grease, the plant's 70 workers sort through trash, sending every
feasible recyclable one way, compost material another and what's left over
to landfills. Next year, the $8 million plant will be expanded to handle an
even more complex technology.

"What we'll do is take the tiny bits of leftover paper and film plastic and
turn them into pellets, which can be burned like fuel," Strazinsky said.

These pinky-sized pellets can then be used in place of coal for large-scale
burners -- such as in steel mills and power plants -- catching the eye of
officials here.

Last week, the Lake County Solid Waste Management District board agreed to
continue exploring the Ohio system, though it was made clear that it was not
under any obligation to do so.

"This is more than just a pie-in-the-sky idea. It's feasible. We just don't
know how feasible," said Jeff Langbehn, the district's director.

At its meeting, the board tipped over the project's first domino, by putting
out a request for a proposal, which will eventually determine whether the
system's cost is worth future discussion. By May, the board should have
these dollar figures.

Currently, Lake County tipping fees -- the cost per ton of trash collected
at landfill sites -- hovers between $26 and $38. If the cost for the new
system falls somewhere near this vicinity, Langbehn said there's a good
chance it could become a reality here.

Although traditional landfills are still the most economical form of
handling waste, they're filling up fast, leaving local governments around
the country looking to the future.
"Our plant is odor-free, and I haven't seen one rat since I've been here,"
Strazinsky said. "Maybe it's because waste on the move is different than
waste that just sits there."

If Lake County adopts the new technology, about three plants would be needed
to handle all the waste. The Ohio plant handles 500 tons of trash per day,
while Lake County generates closer to 2,000 tons per day.

In 1993, Medina County officials took out a 20-year loan from a state agency
to build the facility, charging the same $54 tipping fee to all waste
haulers. Tipping fees there now have been lowered to $49.

At the time, waste haulers there raised residents' monthly trash bills an
average of $2.25 for the new service. But there hasn't been a rate hike
since.
"The average monthly trash bill here is about $12," Strazinsky said.

Average monthly trash bills here are about the same, although they vary by
municipality.

Vern Hein, a longtime resident of Leroy, in unincorporated Lake County, pays
$12 a month for trash pickup, including a $2 recycling fee. Hein said it
would be worth a couple bucks more a month for a countywide system that
ensures recycling is done.

Porter County solid waste officials admit that dwindling landfill space is a
"looming concern," but not pressing enough to prompt a more expensive
alternative at this point.
"It's all about economics," district director Lance Hodges said.

Like much of Lake County's waste, Porter County waste goes to different
landfills outside the county, with tipping fees averaging about $25, Hodges
said. Some of Porter County's trash is taken to the Berrien County landfill
in southwest Michigan.

"We feel the pressure. But we're not moving full speed ahead right now in
any direction," he added. "The Michigan landfill still has a lot of life
left."
As for the high-tech capabilities of the Ohio plant, Porter County is taking
more of a wait-and-see attitude.

"It sounds interesting, but we need more information," Hodges said. "This is
obviously a regional problem."

Jerry Davich can be reached at jerryd@howpubs.com or (219) 933-3243.

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