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What happens to the hazardous waste that Minnesotans bring to the drop-off facilities?

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Minnesotans trying to dump paint, gasoline, batteries, and other hazardous waste from their basements or garages often don’t have to look far for a place to take them. .

The state is a national leader for its extensive household hazardous waste programs, which are managed by each county in Minnesota. Some counties have entire facilities dedicated to accepting hazardous waste, while others hold regular events to pick up the materials.

“I have to say, this state has better coverage than any other,” said Jennifer Volkman, statewide household hazardous waste program coordinator for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). .

But what happens to all this waste? This question came up in a recent conversation between me and my friend Sean Hayford Oleary. He took the question to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune reader-fueled reporting project.

Hayford Oleary keeps a box of hazardous waste in his garage which he brings to Hennepin County’s Bloomington Drop-Off Center about once a year. Visitors enter the facility and staff remove materials from the car.

“It’s incredibly easy,” Hayford Oleary said.

Much, but not all, of hazardous waste is recycled into new products and fuels. Materials that cannot be recycled are generally sent to specialized hazardous waste incinerators located outside of Minnesota.

To paint includes the majority of what people deposit in hazardous waste facilities. The latex paint is sent to Amazon Environmental in Fridley, which recycles it into new paint. This paint can be purchased at Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

“Not many states have that ability” to recycle paint locally, said Louisa Tallman, operations manager for Hennepin County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program. “So we are so lucky.”

Gasoline and Solvent Based Productssuch as paint thinners, are shipped to facilities that turn them into industrial fuel to power facilities such as cement kilns. Oil-based paints and varnish are also turned into fuel.

motor oil is filtered by North Mankato-based Loe’s Oil Co. and used in asphalt plants, Volkman said. Loe’s also recycles antifreeze collected from hazardous waste facilities.

Electronic are sent to Wisconsin-based Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations, which breaks them down into their respective material types such as metal, plastic, wood and glass, Tallman said. This raw material is then sold throughout the country and abroad.

Certain toxic wastes, such as pesticides, cannot be recycled. These products and other non-recyclable products, such as spray cans, are sent to specialized out-of-state incinerators that are designed to safely dispose of hazardous waste. Tallman said incineration only happens when other disposal options aren’t available.

Minnesota considered building one of these facilities in the 1980s, but the controversial plan never materialized.

“These [incinerators] are highly regulated,” Tallman said. “And the environmental controls are state of the art.

Rechargeable batteries pose a significant challenge to the waste system, as they can catch fire if thrown into regular trash cans. Batteries deposited at hazardous waste facilities are usually sent to Call2Recycle, which contracts with companies to sort and process them to remove valuable materials such as lithium, cobalt, steel and others. metals, depending on the organization.

Minnesota’s pioneering Battery Act of 1991, which required battery manufacturers to help pay for battery disposal, was one of the factors that spurred the creation of Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., which operates the Call2Recycle program. There are 432 drop-off locations across the state, many of which are located at retail outlets, according to the organization.

Hazardous waste facilities are particularly interested in receiving Mercury, Volkman says. Mercury is dangerous in the home, but it’s also a risk to the environment if thrown in the trash. Mercury is found in ancient thermometers and thermostats as good as fluorescent bulbs. The recovered mercury is stored, Volkman said.

“We know that mercury always enters the solid waste stream,” Volkman said, referring to studies of incinerator ash. “It’s declining, but super, super slowly.”

However, it must be transported with care. Volkman noted that a mercury spill in a car resulted in the destruction of the vehicle.

There are certain products that hazardous waste facilities cannot accept. Among them are explosives like fireworks and ammunition, which can be difficult to properly dispose of, Tallman said. They also don’t accept medicationsalthough there are other deposit sites that specialize in this area.

Tallman receives many questions about new products, such as home medical devices such as electronic glucometers. These monitors are difficult to dispose of properly because they are part infectious and part electronic, she said.

State law requires all counties to have a hazardous waste management plan, including a strategy for separating hazardous waste from primary waste. The MPCA negotiates statewide contracts with companies that recycle and dispose of collected materials.

Volkman said there’s generally no fee to drop off material — with a few exceptions — because it’s an incentive-based program.

“You want people to participate,” Volkman said. “You want them to bring stuff.”

If you would like to submit a Curious Minnesota question, fill out the form below:

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Read more curious stories from Minnesota:

How much of what we think we recycle is actually recycled?

The Twin Cities district recycles more than ever. Why has landfill not decreased?

Is Minnesota Recycled Trash Really Reused?

How do cities make Mississippi River water safe to drink?

Is it safe to swim in the rivers of the Twin Cities, or are they too polluted?

What happens to all the de-icing fluid sprayed on planes at MSP airport?

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