Ramsey/Washington Joint Designation Plan: A Summary

What is Waste Designation? 

Waste designation is the term used in Minnesota law that allows the counties to enact an ordinance (aka regulatory tool) that requires all or a portion of solid waste to be delivered to a designated waste management facility.  Sometimes called “flow control,” waste designation can be put into place after a thorough planning process that is approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Designation relates to what happens to waste after it is collected – it does not affect who collects trash, or when it is collected.

What is the Planning Process?

Minnesota’s waste designation statutes (Minn. Stat. §§ 115A.80-.893) provide that a Minnesota county may require “all, or a portion, of the solid waste that is generated within its boundaries… be delivered to a processing or disposal facility identified by…the county.” Before a county may begin the designation process, it must adopt a comprehensive Solid Waste Management Master Plan. Plans for designation must be consistent with the State’s waste management hierarchy and other policies, and with each county’s approved Solid Waste Management Master Plan. Following approval of a designation plan, counties are required to hold a public hearing, and then proceed to negotiate waste delivery agreements with waste haulers. Following that, a county proceeds to adopt a designation ordinance. The MPCA oversees the process and has several points of review. The overall process takes about 18 months.

Ramsey and Washington Counties Designation Plans

Ramsey and Washington Counties purchased the Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Center in Newport, Minnesota (“R&E Center”), and plan to use that waste processing facility as a key component in managing waste and resources in the East Metro area. During a three year planning and evaluation period, the counties anticipated the use of waste designation as a critical policy choice to achieve state waste management goals. A Joint Waste Designation Plan has been developed and will be submitted to the MPCA for approval on behalf of both counties, as the necessary next step in achieving the vision for waste and resource management in the East Metro. In addition to the Designation Plan, the counties are updating their current solid waste master plans to reflect the purchase of the R&E Center and to provide more detail about the R&E Center’s operations.

How will designation work?

  • After approval of the designation plans by the MPCA, the counties will conduct a public hearing on the Plan, and proceed with implementing the Plan.
  • Designation will apply to “acceptable waste,” which is waste that the R&E Center is capable of receiving and processing. Designation does not apply to materials separated for recycling.
  • The first step is to negotiate long-term waste delivery agreements with waste haulers, for the voluntary delivery of all acceptable waste generated in the two counties. Long-term waste delivery agreements are a preferred way to achieve more certain deliveries to the facility, and have been a successful tool in other counties in Minnesota. The counties will also work to contract with certain transfer stations to minimize disruption in hauler operations.
  • The second step is to adopt waste designation requirements in each of the county solid waste ordinances; this will require acceptable waste that is not subject to contract to be delivered to the R&E Center, by law.
  • The ordinance and contracts have to be reviewed by the MPCA, and there is a waiting period before they can go into effect.

What will be different?

Very little will change. At this time almost 85% of the trash generated in the two counties, around 335,000 tons per year (TPY), is delivered to the R&E Center. Designation will require 100% of it, about 400,000 TPY, to be delivered to the R&E Center in Newport. This means that the difference between the two which is now being landfilled will be diverted from those landfills to the R&E Center for processing. Designation “levels the playing field,” so that all haulers deliver to the same facility at the same disposal fee. 

Why is designation being considered?

Designation allows for a more stable, predictable trash processing system that can help better manage various risks and control costs.  Ramsey and Washington Counties are working to find ways to create a modern trash processing system that offers more stability and predictability, and ultimately ensures greater control of our costs.  Designation gives the counties the legal authority to oversee where and how that trash is processed and to ensure that it is done so in a way that manages environmental and public health risks and avoids putting the costs and risks of today’s waste management on future generations.

Designation is necessary to secure sufficient waste supply to support the reliable operation of and long-term financial viability of the R&E Center as well as future endeavors the R&E Board undertakes to make further advances in waste management. It will ensure that all waste from the two counties is delivered to the R&E Center where metals are recycled and trash is made into fuel to be converted to electricity, or, at a later date, biofuels. Designation will help the counties meet state, regional and county goals of using waste in the highest and best use.  

Designation is also necessary for the Counties to reach the statutory 75 percent recycling goal imposed by the State on metropolitan counties.  Designation directs all trash to the R&E Center so that the existing separation equipment can remove the ferrous and non-ferrous metals. It provides the necessary assurance of waste flows to invest in capital-intensive equipment for Mixed Waste Processing, (MWP), or the mechanical separation of the trash, to remove more recyclable materials from the trash and other potential waste streams delivered to the R&E Center. This does not replace source separation of recyclables by residents and businesses but seeks to remove additional recyclables not recycled at the source by those residents and businesses.  Through extensive recycling studies, the R&E Board has determined that a 75 percent recycling goal is not feasible without the additional recovery of recyclables and other materials that MWP at the R&E Center provides over and above what is achievable through source separation.