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The Landfill of North Iowa filling up, but not too fast
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The Landfill of North Iowa filling up, but not too fast

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The Landfill of North Iowa has room for about 85 more years of trash, according to Mitzi Brunsvold, Education Coordinator at the public entity near Mason City.

“But it’s surprising how fast it fills up,” she said.

She said LNI receives an average of 90,000 tons of garbage a year. Opened in 1971, this location off Kildeer Avenue in Clear Lake includes about 150 acres permitted for landfill use. The landfill is currently building a new “cell” or containment area for dumping.

“We are governed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources,” Brunsvold explained. “So we have to follow regulations on how to build cells. We work with an engineering firm to make sure we are compliant.”

The DNR determines the service area for each landfill. The Landfill of North Iowa, which employs 13 people, serves all of Cerro Gordo and Franklin counties, plus specific communities in four other counties: Garner, Klemme, Forest City, Joice, Hanlontown, Northwood, Kensett, Manly, Grafton, and Nora Springs.

“Communities pay a per capita fee to be part of the landfill,” she said. “Jurisdictions are set up. People have to go to the landfill in their area. Otherwise, they have to get approval fom DNR for that waste to come in.”

Brunsvold noted that when they’ve had to dig out sections of long-established waste piles, items come out looking as new as when they went in.

“It’s a misconception that things degrade," she said. "This trash isn’t going to go anywhere. We compact it and bury it, with a heavy plastic liner on bottom and on top. Some things break down, but will never disintegrate or go away.”

To help extend the life of the landfill, a wide variety of recyclable materials are accepted. Brunsvold calls them “diversion” programs, because they divert usable waste from piling up in the trash.

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LNI recently built a new convenience center with the help of a grant. Customers follow a wide circular paved drive with more dumpsters and areas clearly marked for various goods.

In addition to the items generally picked up in curbside recycling (mixed paper, mixed plastics, aluminum and tin, and cardboard), other material that LNI customers can drop off includes:

Electronics, appliances, and tires - Electronics go to Midwest Electronic Recycling near Cedar Rapids. Brunsvold said this and other companies they deal with are verified by the DNR for responsible recycling. Appliances are sent to a business in Hampton for disassembly, and tires go to a company in Liberty.

 Wood waste - Clean, non-treated, non-painted wood is ground into two sizes: wood chips, like a mulch, or smaller grind, for animal bedding. This material is free to take, up to a pickup load, with a charge for larger truckloads.

• Mixed metal - “We’ve seen a huge increase in that, up over 50 percent,” Brunsvold said. That includes things like bikes, grills, fencing, and more. Customers can drop these off for a fee, and LNI takes them to a local scrap yard.

• Concrete - Waste concrete that is clean and free of metal gets crushed up by LNI for maintenance of its gravel roads.

• Yard waste and compost - Yard waste can be dropped off for $5 a load, no matter how many bags. Stumps and branches are ground up for mulch. Compost is free to take home.

• Habitat for Humanity Restore - Customers can leave possible donations to Habitat’s resale store. If the item is accepted, Habitat will send a receipt. The landfill charges a fee, but donors could get a tax deduction.

Residents and businesses served by LNI can recycle there during its regular business hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday. Drive up on the scale to speak to staff and pay any fees. For recycling materials that don’t carry a fee, drive past the office and follow the signs.

“I feel like if I’ve educated one person, I’ve done my job,” Brunsvold said of the never-ending efforts to improve the region’s environment. “One person said to me, ‘That’s a beautiful place out there, it doesn’t look anything like a landfill.’ I take a lot of pride in that.”

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