New technologies still rely on shredding trash into pieces

From all the research that Ramsey and Washington county officials have conducted on new trash processing technologies, we’ve confirmed that these technologies can help us to get the most energy value from trash that is shredded.

And, we have a base to build the future on: There is a tried and true facility in Newport we have relied on for years that takes trash and shreds it.

Since 1987, Ramsey and Washington counties have been the primary customers of the privately-owned facility. It’s located at the junction of 494 and Highway 10.

The company separates recyclables from trash collected from East Metro households and businesses, and then chops the trash into shredded pieces. The shredded trash is trucked to Xcel Energy plants in Red Wing and Mankato. There, the power plants burn the shredded trash to make electricity. Click here to see how trash is sorted and shredded at the Newport facility.

In the coming 20 to 30 years, a new technology called gasification may be a better use of shredded trash, instead of power plants. Gasification may cost less, may be more efficient and may be more environmentally friendly.

Any new technology will depend on the Newport plant to continue to remove recyclables, and turn household and business trash into shredded trash.

As part of our research, we are looking at ways to lower the costs of services at the Newport plant over the next 20 to 30 years, while continuing to protect the environment. Lower costs may be a big deal. After all, there is a cost to doing the right thing in order to keep trash out of landfills. In 2014, to compete with landfill disposal fees, Ramsey and Washington counties subsidized haulers with $8.4 million to bring trash to the Newport plant. And this year, we’re expected to pay another $8.4 million.

We’re studying these options and others to see how much money we might save county taxpayers and households and businesses that generate trash in the long run.

While studying and evaluating these options has occupied our attentions, we recognize that the most important technology for handling waste is the simplest: Reducing waste and recycling materials comes first. Separating recyclables at homes and businesses, and processing them into new products makes great sense. After recycling, however, there is still of lot of material to be recovered from the trash that has value.