Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago Counties, Wis.
A cooperative recycling and solid waste plan is saving three counties $35 million in disposal costs over a 25-year period and saving $8 million in recycling costs over a 12-year period.
In 2001, Wisconsin’s Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago county officials met to discuss how to most efficiently operate their recycling services in light of the revenue challenges facing such programs. (The state requires municipalities to provide recycling services. However, with the private sector servicing a significant number of accounts, the counties faced reduced revenues that affected their ability to offset recycling costs.)
Each of the three counties operated its own materials recovery facility (MRF) and landfill, and the counties wanted to retain their own customers, budget, boards and committees. Nevertheless, municipal officials believed that, if they looked beyond their governmental boundaries, they could share the costs and benefits of recycling and landfilling, and pass the savings on to residents.
Ultimately, the leaders wanted a plan that would increase economies of scale, maximize existing assets and obtain operational savings, says Sherri McNamara, Outagamie County deputy executive administrator. They decided that, to reach those goals, all three counties would use one landfill at the same time. In 2002, the counties began operating under the Tri-County Cooperative Agreement, which established the framework for the sharing of landfills and MRFs. It also set a common tipping fee that is competitive with market conditions.
Officials discussed using Brown County’s landfill first. However, because Brown is the northern most county, Outagamie and Winnebago counties recognized hauling costs would increase substantially. To equalize costs, the three counties agreed to begin landfilling at Outagamie County.
Once the landfill cell is filled, the counties will dispose of waste at Winnebago County until its facility is filled, then return to Outagamie County to fill a second cell. Once the second cell is filled, the counties will finish their disposal at Brown County’s landfill.
To handle recyclables, the counties also had to work through some obstacles. For example, when Winnebago County volunteered the use of its MRF, a labor issue arose. The county used state prisoners to process materials and proposed similar labor for the other two counties’ facilities. However, the state Department of Corrections objected because officials feared that prisoners might replace workers in other counties. As a result, Brown County offered to serve the consortium at its MRF, which would handle commingled materials. Outagamie County then offered its MRF to handle paper and cardboard, and Winnebago County decided to close its facility.
With the landfilling and recycling plans laid out, officials from all three counties are confident that they are providing the most cost-effective services for their residents.
Buoyed by their combined efforts in solid waste managment, the counties also are looking to cooperate in other areas. For example, the trio already is working on meshing its computer-aided dispatch and record management systems for county and municipal public safety personnel.
“At first it was difficult getting people to see that a joint effort was to their advantage,” McNamara says. But having worked through the challenges of educating county boards, municipalities and the public on the concept of cooperation, the counties are ready to reap the benefits.
Agencies/companies involved: Foth & Van Dyke, Green Bay, Wis.