Solid Waste Master Plan Amendment: A Summary

Metropolitan counties are required by state law to prepare and revise solid waste management master plans every 6 years, which must be approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Ramsey and Washington Counties have had a series of solid waste master plans dating back to the 1980’s. These plans have guided changes in solid waste management from being a system dependent on landfills to one that integrates a variety of management strategies, and performs at one of the highest levels in the nation. These plans have served as guidance to counties, municipalities, the waste industry and others as decisions are made about waste management. The master plans have come to be respected as setting clear policy direction for solid waste management, and provide a level of stability to a very dynamic system.

The solid waste management system for both Ramsey and Washington Counties are described in their respective Solid Waste Master Plans (Master Plans).  The Master Plans are informed by state and federal laws with a focus on protecting public health and the environment and conserving resources. 

What is being amended in the Master Plans?

The current Master Plans set forth policies and strategies for waste management for 2011 to 2030 and were approved by each county board and the MPCA in 2012. Both counties are amending the processing chapter of their current plans to clarify the counties policies and strategies on waste processing and implementation of a Ramsey/Washington County Joint Waste Designation Plan.  The amendment is made to the Processing section in each county’s strategies chapter in both Master Plans.  The other policies and strategies in the Master Plans are not being amended. The counties continue to support a fully integrated waste management system, including achieving State goals for recycling.

Ramsey and Washington Counties seek to clarify processing plans

Ramsey and Washington Counties through a joint powers board, the Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Board, purchased the Recycling & Energy Center in Newport, Minnesota (“R&E Center”) on December 31, 2015.  The counties plan to use the R&E Center 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.  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.  In addition, 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.

What will be different in the Master Plans?

Very little will change. The Master Plans supported a merchant approach for waste processing, in which the financial risk and benefit of owning and operating a waste processing facility would have rested with the private sector, and the counties would not have to continue to fund incentives to haulers to ensure delivery of waste to the R&E Center. The merchant approach failed, when the solid waste marketplace did not support a market-based approach. The master plan policies state that, in the event of a failure of the market to support a merchant facility, other actions would be considered, including possible purchase of the processing facility in Newport.

During 2013 to 2015, the R&E Board conducted an extensive evaluation of options and decided to purchase and publically operate the facility.  The amendment to the Master Plan continues the counties’ support of waste processing, acknowledges the option selected to publicly own and operate the R&E Center, and adopts a policy that states their intent to implement designation as a policy tool to achieve environmental goals. 

What will be the impact to the East Metro waste system?

At this time almost 85% of the trash generated in the two counties, around 335,000 tons per year, is delivered to the R&E Center, directly or through transfer stations. Designation will require 100% of it, about 400,000 tons per year, to be delivered to the R&E Center. This means that the difference between the two, which is about 65,000 tons that is now being landfilled, will be diverted from those landfills for processing. 

Public ownership and operation of the R&E Center, coupled with designation, are policies that will assure that the integrated waste and resource management system in the East Metro achieves state goals.