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Becker County trash will soon be processed at Perham facility

Workers at the Perham incinerator facility look through incoming garbage for cardboard, metal or larger items that might clog up the sorting machine. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 4
A worker operates a giant claw, which comes down, scoops up garbage and drops it into the incinerator. The whole process can be done from the control room, where incinerator emmissions can be closely monitored. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 4
The Perham MURF facility separates non-flamable material out of garbage to be burned in the incinerator. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 4
DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham4 / 4

The expression used to be garbage in, garbage out.

Not anymore. With the new materials recovery facility attached to the solid waste incinerator at Perham, it’s garbage in, recyclables and burnables out.

With its multiple, interconnected conveyor belts, bins and chutes, the new material recovery (MURF)  facility looks like Willie Wonka’s factory — except it’s garbage straight from the truck flowing through that complex system, not fine chocolate.


But the 150-foot by 300-foot pre-fab concrete facility smells sweet to Becker County, which plans to start diverting its solid waste stream there this year, sending less to be buried at a landfill in Fargo.

Since the Perham Resource Recovery Facility opened a few weeks ago, the manufacturer and the 15 or so employees at the facility have been running tests and working out the bugs.

When it’s ready, up to 40 tons of garbage per hour will run through the system — seven hours a day, five days a week.

It starts on the concrete surface of the tipping floor, where garbage trucks, fresh from routes in Perham, Fergus Falls, Todd and Wadena counties, now dump their smelly loads.

A payloader scoops it up and deposits it into a wide metal trough holding a conveyor belt, and the trash is off — disappearing through a wall that leads to the MURF part of the 32-foot-high building.


As it comes down the conveyor belt, a crew of a half-dozen or so hardy souls, armed with sturdy sticks, poke and prod and remove undesirable items — from old lawnmower parts to sheets of corrugated cardboard that are too big for the system.

They drop the stuff into large open chutes next to them, leading to big metal bins on the concrete floor some 10 feet below.

The workers allow the rest of the garbage to flow on into a trommel, which looks sort of like a giant elongated clothes dryer with wicked rows of sharp blades.

As the trammel rotates, the blades tear open the plastic garbage bags and fine material like broken glass and gravel — stuff that doesn’t burn well — passes into rows of 2-inch holes onto a conveyor belt where it is collected and landfilled.

Further in are rows of 6-inch diameter holes, where tin and aluminum cans pass through onto a conveyor for further processing.


The aluminum cans are separated magnetically in a different machine, and eventually shoot up through tube-like ductwork across the ceiling of the big building, then drop into a metal bin for bailing — kind of like a bank drive-up’s pneumatic tube system, only this one uses forced air.

The rest of the garbage eventually comes out the other end of the trammel and moves on through the conveyor system, where it ultimately is piled for burning.

The upshot is that valuable recyclables like aluminum and cardboard will be collected, baled and sold.

Stuff that doesn’t burn well or harms air quality when burned will be removed, and everything else (including plastics, which are petroleum-based and burn well) will feed the incinerator. The facility produces steam, which is sold to several businesses in Perham.

Becker County last year sent 17,402 tons of garbage to a landfill near Fargo, but it has joined the Prairie Lakes Municipal Solid Waste Authority, the joint powers group that owns the MURF and adjoining incinerator, and aims to send 60-70 percent of its garbage stream to Perham. The rest will continue to be landfilled in Fargo.


Construction is underway on a second burning chamber at the Perham incinerator, and when it opens in a few months, the spigots will open from Becker County, which has some work of its own to do to prepare. It hopes to get state bonding help with a $2.3 million project at the Detroit Lakes transfer station to build a new facility to handle the solid waste flow, both garbage and recyclables.

The shift to Perham is the right thing to do, said Becker County Environmental Services Director Steve Skoog.

“We’re looking for a more preferred way to handle this solid waste,” he said. “In the long-term, this is more environmentally friendly than what we’ve done in the past, and the commissioners should be commended for that.”

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