The New Montana Territory

Digging deeper into waste management

The reality of dealing with Madison County’s growth and determining a smart direction for its future played out during last week’s meeting of the Madison County Solid Waste and Recycling Board. It’s an undisputed and less-than-glamorous fact that more people equal more garbage. Despite everyone’s best intentions to reduce waste and recycle, the more people who move into the county (even if they all recycle at a furious pace) the more waste and recycling bins will be needed, and the more labor hours will be required to transport waste and recyclables to their next stop in the waste stream. All this costs money.

Just three of the topics discussed by the Board embody a microcosm of the challenges that growing communities are trying to meet on all fronts, not just the trashy ones:

• mitigate the impact of growth on wildlife habitat

• adapt best practices to make operations more environmentally responsible

• recognize the reality of growth and prepare.

Growth and habitat

- A recent story in The Madisonian highlighted the successful installation of an automated trash container at Palisades designed to keep trash in and bears out. Last week the Board put out a bid for a new bearproof dumpster at Pony.

People to Carnivores, a nonprofit group, will contribute most of the cost. (https:// While this challenge may be unique to communities in proximity to wilderness, it’s an important recognition of the encroachment of people into the wild, at the peril of the wildlife we love.

More environmentally responsible

– How to balance the county’s obligation to provide essential services at efficient costs with its responsibility to minimize the environmental impact of its operations? Let’s face it: it costs more money to be environmentally responsible. Economics alone don’t justify the additional costs of providing recycling services to the citizens of Madison County. But many citizens want to do their part to reduce the volume of garbage that ends up in a landfill, where it will remain throughout eternity. Last week the Board continued a discussion about recycling that has been going on for a long time. The empty milk jugs that you deposit in the plastics recycling bin, along with aluminum cans and cardboard, are taken to Four Corners Recycling. (Most plastic items are labeled with a number according to their plastic content; keep in mind that only plastics numbered 1 and 2 are accepted.) Among the matters with which the Board will continue to grapple: better communications about which items can be recycled and which cannot, including making signage on bins more reader-friendly; more recycling bins with greater capacity; encouraging citizens to participate in the recycling program (for example, it’s just as easy to put your cardboard in the cardboard recycling area as it is to throw it in with general household waste.)

Recognize growth and make changes

– This is the overarching challenge. Whether it’s more traffic, fewer parking spaces at the grocery store, or rising home prices, growth is in our face. It begs the universal question: do we manage growth or does it continue on its own independent trajectory? In an effort to undertake the former, the Board voted to ask the Madison County Commission to consider a proposal from a consulting firm that would assess the county’s waste management policies, operations and economics, and develop a plan that anticipates future waste demands and recommends best practices for now and the future. The consulting firm, Blue Ridge Services (https://blueridgeservices. com), specializes in solid waste management for communities with a range of populations, growth patterns and environmental landscapes. The Commission will consider the proposal at a future meeting. The next meeting of the Madison County Solid Waste and Recycling Board will be held in February 2022.

A few facts about solid waste in Madison County:

• The county operates 10 container transfer stations, located in Palisades Recreation Area, Ennis, Twin Bridges, Norris, Harrison, Jefferson Island, Silver Star, Sheridan, Alder and Virginia City.

• The county does not have its own municipal solid waste landfill. Fees are paid to landfills in neighboring counties to take waste generated here. The county has two Class III landfills that take burnable wood, tires and concrete. They are in Twin Bridges and Ennis.

• Yard waste and tree branches can be deposited at the Twin Bridges and Ennis transfer stations.

• Recycling Do’s and Don’ts – found on the county website: https://www.madisoncountymt. gov/DocumentCenter/View/642/ Plastic-Recycling-Information-PDF

• Landfills and container sites are for use by Madison County residents only. Their cost is paid for by fees attached to property taxes.

• The Madison County Sanitarian Dept. operates with eight employees and an annual budget of $1.2 million.

• The Madison County Solid Waste and Recycling Board comprises five citizens appointed by County Commission: one representative from each district and two at-large members. The Board’s mission is to develop and administer a solid waste program within the county. 

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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