Lake County Solid Waste Manager Mark Nelson estimates his department collects 25,000 tons of trash a year. Most of it, he says, ends up in the Missoula landfill.
With that staggering number in mind, Nelson hopes to lighten the county's trash load this year by ramping up recycling in the Flathead.
At present, Lake County moves 100 tons of recyclables per month, relying heavily on conscientious citizens to drop cardboard, paper and plastics off at the county's transfer station. But if Nelson lands a $25,000 federal stimulus grant from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)—an outcome he's confident will happen—that monthly total could increase by 125 tons.
"If we actually get more taken out of the waste stream, it'll extend the life of the Missoula landfill," Nelson says.
The county plans to purchase three compartmentalized recycling containers to be stationed in Polson, Ronan and St. Ignatius. These would eliminate the necessity of people going out of their way to recycle, Nelson says. He's already set aside county money for a fourth container, which he intends to place in Polson.
"I think it'll vastly increase the amount of solid waste we're diverting," Nelson says. "There's a really huge desire. I get asked about it all the time."
Polson Parks Superintendent Karen Sargeant is in lockstep with Nelson. She applied for a separate $25,000 grant from the DEQ, but Sargeant says Polson plans to pursue a recycling program regardless of stimulus funding.
"It may not be the wazoo one we wanted to put together," Sargeant says. "But we're all kind of looking at how we can work together and make this happen."
In the event the city doesn't get its grant, Sargeant says her department will personally collect as much recyclable material as it can. The Flathead is simply primed for a recycling revolution, she says.
"There is a demand for it," Sargeant says. "I've lived here six years and you can feel it. People are constantly asking me, 'Where can I go to recycle this? I feel guilty throwing things out.'"